CIRCLE Entertainment's Castle Conqueror series has seen a healthy number of instalments in its release history, so it's no surprise when a new game hits the Nintendo eShop. The series has stuck to a simplistic RTS (real-time strategy) style of gameplay for the majority of its entries, but the developers decided to change things up a bit this time around with the release of Castle Conqueror Defender. Though the main Castle Conqueror series is not entirely chronological, Defender feels much more like a spin-off than a continuation.
The bulk of Castle Conqueror releases on the DSiWare and 3DS eShop services featured easily accessible stylus-based RTS gameplay. Stepping away from its predecessors, this latest game is a tower defense strategy title that sees its players protecting a hero from advancing armies. There are 10 stages to play through, each containing five waves of enemy attack, and two additional modes that unlock once the campaign has been completed. It’s not a whole lot of content, but as with most games in the genre repeat plays through are encouraged to best your own strategy.
Employing a very similar art style to the main Castle Conqueror series, Defender makes use of cartoony sprites and colourful environments to put an endearing twist on the otherwise gruesome game of war. Accompanying the handsome art style is a soundtrack that also suits the tone of the game that, while limited, is a great fit for the adventure. The story mostly unfolds through blocks of poorly translated text and small snippets of dialogue that are easily some of the least impressive parts of the game, surely disappointing for anyone who plays their tower defense games for their riveting plots rather than the quick entertainment fix that they are intended to provide.
The control system gives players a bit of flexibility in their options, ranging from touch based menu selections to physical inputs when placing soldiers and strongholds on the battlefield. The controls work well enough, especially considering that most of your arrangements are set before the action begins in any given stage. This is the type of experience that does not rely on quick commands, but when considered logically the entire game seems to be flipped upside down. All of the action, including your positioning of units and anything else that would seemingly benefit from touch controls, takes place on the top screen, but nothing is displayed in 3D. All of your menu options – in this case, the selections that could just as easily be made with physical inputs – are located on the bottom screen. Again, the gameplay isn’t fast-paced so precision isn’t paramount, but it’s obvious that this would have benefited from using touch controls to place units rather than relying on the D or Circle Pads.
If you’ve ever played any tower defense game on any platform ever, then you have a very good idea of what to expect here. Gameplay consists almost entirely of setting up units and buildings to stave off enemy attack and keep a singular soldier alive. Gold is earned by defeating enemies and by finishing stages, and the gold that you save can then be turned around and used to replenish your supply of soldiers and traps, or to repair your damaged buildings. It’s a now classic formula that fans of the genre know and love, but in taking on this type of gameplay Castle Conqueror Defender does little with it.
Each stage is set up very similarly with your castle on one end of the map while enemy troops advance from the other. Once you’ve figured out what units and traps are the most effective, it quickly becomes a game about remembering to replenish your supplies between each stage rather than focusing on any sort of strategy. While a good tower defense forces you to think about advantages and test out all of the units available to you, this lacks any semblance of balance that would make you want to even try, and in doing so it creates a tedious experience that is hardly any fun after the first few stages. It becomes mostly about going through the motions, and that feels like a very hollow victory.
Castle Conqueror Defender is an unfortunate game that, while not doing anything inherently wrong, doesn’t do anything to make itself stand out within its over-populated genre. Tower defense strategy games can easily feel as though there isn’t much variety from one title to the next, making it very important for developers to pay attention to how the genre can grow and be made more interesting. That being said, if you love tower defense games and are absolutely craving something to whet your appetite for more, this one will suffice.