About a year ago, Circle Entertainment released Castle Conqueror, a quirky and simple RTS that was also very addictive and fun. If we had any real complaints about it, it was that the charming simplicity somewhat prevented it from achieving any substantial depth. It was an excellent experience, but it felt as though it was barely scratching the surface of what it could have been.
Then, only about a month ago, we got Castle Conqueror - Revolution, which, true to its title, felt like a deliberate step in a new direction. Sadly, apart from some mildly improved AI, we didn't see many of the changes as a good thing. The core experience of the game was still fun and addictive, but the myriad options and attack styles just seemed to get in the way of what was, at heart, still a superficial endeavour.
Now, however, we have Castle Conqueror - Heroes and it's easier to see the merits of that release: it was a stepping stone toward a full-on overhaul of the series, and Heroes is the culmination of those changes.
It's a totally different experience this time around, but it's a great one. Those who played the first two games and are familiar with their simple tap and slide controls will be surprised to find that this release doesn't even offer the option of stylus control. It's purely button-based, and that's only the beginning.
The real-time aspect of the first two games is also missing, replaced by a turn-based system that requires far more strategy and forethought. Earlier Castle Conqueror games allowed the player to mindlessly overwhelm enemy troops with simple brute force, but Heroes requires far more careful use of your resources at every junction.
The plot involves a dystopian future in which you are responsible for the survival — and eventual triumph — of a small pocket of freedom fighters; those fighters grow in number as the game progresses, but so do your enemies. The plot, while formulaic, does offer its own degree of surprise, unfolding as it does in the midst of battles, between turns, and throwing wrenches into your strategy by introducing new objectives or enemies partway through the level!
This is just one of the tricks up the game's sleeve, and we don't want to spoil too many more of them. Suffice it to say, however, that the fact that your rag-tag team of resistance members will become more important to you than any of the anonymous hordes in the first two games ever could. By guiding the same group of soldiers through the levels, you become invested in their struggles, and you also come to feel responsible for their safety. It's a remarkably successful inversion of what made the first two games so great, and we're impressed that Circle was able to pull that off so well.
The objectives are also more complicated. You're no longer required to capture every installation in sight; you'll now sometimes have to take out a specific enemy, or even just prevent one certain ally from perishing in battle. The shop and upgrades menus remain in place, but the battles last much longer and grinding for gold so that you can upgrade early and overpower your foes isn't quite as easy to do.
You'll also have different types of soldiers to consider this time around, each one — yes, even those members of the anonymous hordes — with their own abilities and attributes. The turn-based gameplay makes it easier to keep each one distinct in your mind, and every fighter becomes a valuable member of your team, provided you use him well.
On top of that, you can also employ the "siege" option, which swaps out your standard attack for, basically, a group assault that also involves any allied units in adjacent squares. This is an excellent — and often necessary — way to gang up on powerful enemy troops that you wouldn't normally be able to defeat with your weak fighters.
The game is, quite simply, an enormous deal of strategic fun. The levels are long and often complex, however, making this game less suited than the others in the series for quick bursts. There is a save feature that you can employ at any time, which is extremely useful, but it also lends itself easily to abuse. That's a bug for some, and a definite feature for others.
Castle Conqueror - Heroes is great. It retains the addictive fun of the first game, finds a more appropriate home for the options and visual presentation of the second game, and it takes the series into uncharted territory that pays off handsomely. If you prefer fast-paced simplicity you're probably better off with one of the previous two games, but if you're looking for a long and difficult experience with an enormous sense of fair challenge and satisfying achievement, Castle Conqueror - Heroes is the place to be.
There's very little that Castle Conqueror - Heroes doesn't get right. It's challenging, addictive and continuously surprising. While its adoption of a turn-based structure is bound to leave some fans of the previous games scratching their heads, we think the gamble paid off in spades, and the end result is a strong title that's bursting with challenging missions. Castle Conqueror - Heroes is the best entry yet in a very enjoyable series, and we recommend it easily.