Review: Castle Conqueror - Revolution (DSiWare)

It revolves, but it doesn't evolve

The first Castle Conqueror game was one that we definitely felt comfortable recommending. It mixed cutesy aesthetics with fast and addictive gameplay, and while seasoned RTS veterans no doubt found the game a little too simplified, the amount of fun it offered was difficult to resist.

Its sequel, Castle Conqueror — Revolution, feels like a direct and specific response to the first game. It seeks to correct and redefine the Castle Conqueror experience, and that's both a good and a bad thing.

For those who didn't play the first game, you take control of an army that occupies a certain number of structures at the beginning of each level, and desires to occupy them all. The concept couldn't be simpler, and the execution was designed to match. Simple sweeps of the stylus sent invading armies or reinforcements wherever you sent them, and the controls worked very well for what they needed to do.

That was, more or less, the entire game. What we liked was its replayability, its deceptively deep challenge, and its charm. Revolution attempts to add a few new layers to that onion, but it succeeds more in complicating the game than in improving it.

The changes to the gameplay are largely — but not exclusively — down to the amount of customisation available. Rather than soldiers simply following your stylus around the battlefield, you can now also hold down the stylus for an increasingly focused attack, or draw a circle around a fortification in order to "target" something. Additionally you can change the number of soldiers in each squadron, change their default priorities, manage their morale, capture different soldier types from neutral factions and...

...well, you can see how this would get complicated. And while complication in itself isn't a bad thing, coming so closely on the heels of a game that flourished by its gleeful simplicity, it's difficult not to see this as a step backward. Rather than being engaged in battle after battle, you'll find a good deal of your time spent navigating menus between skirmishes. Even a simple "retry" of a failed mission requires the navigation of three separate interim screens, and that's something that used to be instantaneous.

The complications don't add much to the gameplay, and they seem to try to appeal to every type of gamer at once. Those who prefer simplicity, however, won't be pleased at having to navigate so many screens just to play their game, and those who prefer complexity will correctly see these options as a token pandering in their direction, rather than providing any real, rewarding evolution of the strategy in the original game.

There's also a reduction in the number of missions available per campaign, from ten to six, with a hidden seventh. This mean's the original game's already-steep difficulty curve has just spiked even further, which is probably not going to win any new converts.

And should we discuss the elephant in the room? Of course we should. The change in visual design is perhaps this game's most glaring misstep. The original game had a cute, quirky art style that blended extremely well with the simplified nature of the battles. It gave the game a great deal of its personality, and the adorable between-battle illustrations were reward enough in themselves to keep playing. Here, though, the visual style is far more generic. In an attempt to appear less kid-friendly, we suppose, the game just appears less friendly, period. Whatever "feel" Castle Conqueror was attempting the first time around has been totally disregarded here, and that does not serve the series well.

However, with all of that being said, there is one great, important thing we can say about this game: it's still, overall, just as fun as its predecessor.

The mistakes Revolution makes are many, but they're pretty minor when you consider that the game itself is still just as fun, addictive and challenging as ever. It's lost its visual flair, its default simplicity and a good deal of its style, but it's still a very good game at heart, and if you can stand clicking through a few more menus and suffering through its drearily charmless visual design, you'll find a game worth playing. The only real difference is that in the previous game, you didn't need to dig nearly as deeply to find the gold.

Conclusion

Castle Conqueror — Revolution feels like change for change's sake. Much of what worked in the previous game has been retooled here, often with disappointing results, but the core experience hasn't changed. Those in search of a fast and fun RTS to carry in their pockets are well-served by this release, but we'd be remiss if we didn't point them toward the original Castle Conqueror instead, which offered the same experience in a much cleaner, and cheerier, package.