Zen Studios, known mostly for its pinball titles, has created a promising new IP in CastleStorm, a tower defence / real-time strategy game with easy-to-learn, difficult-to-master gameplay and a tongue-in-cheek story filled with humour and personality. Playing a bit like a hybrid of Swords & Soldiers and Angry Birds, it's often a hectic and frenzied experience, but it remains addictive throughout. With a good amount of customisation and player choice, too, this is a meaty, fun adventure that is only occasionally brought down by finicky controls.
CaslteStorm's story is simple, silly, and filled with intentional cliché. Players are cast as the hero of a kingdom that is besieged with attacks from the Vikings, after a special stone that kept the peace between the warring kingdoms disappears. The hero is in charge of the knights, wizards and other units, as well as a ballista that is used to throw objects at the opponent's stronghold or castle. The ballista is this game's defining feature, and a very clever one at that; with a physics system that resembles that of Angry Birds, players will watch with glee as the enemy castle slowly — and sometimes rapidly and suddenly — crumbles to the ground as the war rages on the battlefield. While manning the ballista, players are tasked with deploying various troops to fight incoming enemies, infiltrate the enemy stronghold and capture the flag.
Multitasking the ballista and various troops can be quite challenging, as the 2D playing field is rather large; there were various moments when we were following the troops as they attacked the enemy stronghold, not realizing that the enemy ballista had just taken out a large portion of our castle. Fortunately, the camera can be zoomed in and out and the entire stage can be viewed at any time, which and eventually you can adapt. It takes some time to get the hang of the many different tasks to manage during each stage, but once mastered, winning becomes very satisfying.
The controls are fairly straightforward, but the ballista can be a bit finicky. Using the analogue stick for the ballista tended to cause some frustration early on, with imprecise, loose aiming, but it became easier as the campaign progressed. Combine that with using the GamePad's buttons to deploy troops, while dragging the camera with the touch screen, and things can quickly get frantic.
Luckily, there are several side missions that will help players hone their skills. The side missions also provide the player with gold to level up troops and customise their castle. CastleStorm offers a lot of options when it comes to fortifying your castle and making it as destruction-proof as possible. The castle editor — for setting the up your fort pre-battle - is easy to use and intuitive, but for those that would rather rush into battle there are plenty of pre-made castle formations with different attributes and strengths.
The game employs a smooth 3D visual style with no slowdown to be found, but the audio is a bit of a let-down. The music doesn't match the game's irreverent and wacky tone; it sounds more like generic elevator music. There's no real voice acting during the campaign, and the troops' various rallying cries and shout-outs are funny, but grow repetitive. Still, the sound design is by no means unpleasant — it just doesn't take the experience as far as it could.
In addition to the main campaign, there are several other modes, including a versus mode that can be played online or against the CPU. An interesting, if novel mode involves one player manning the ballista while the other controls a hero on the battlefield. These modes are fun, as long as there are players online — we didn't have trouble with finding matches for this review, and were very pleased not to find any lag in the experience. And a great bonus to the multiplayer modes? The gold carries over into the main campaign, allowing you to get ahead earlier!
With a lengthy campaign, lots of customisation and plenty of variety, CastleStorm is a strong eShop title. There is a bit of a learning curve for the controls, and the presentation doesn't go as far as it could, but the satisfaction of taking down opposing castles make this frantic experience worthwhile. If you like strategy, tower defence, or even physics-based puzzlers and action games, CastleStorm is highly recommended.