Knights, magic, ballista and more mixed with capture the flag and castle destroying sounds like a fun combination. Why can’t someone make a game about that? Oh wait, Zen Studios brings you Castlestorm, an Angry Birds meets tower defense meets RPG strategy creation that has more things going the screen at once than that of a South Korean StarCraft pro but without all the carpal tunnel.
Castlestorm is a hard game to term because it is a medley of so many different genres and types. The player takes control of their castle’s forces as they try to survive wave after wave of attackers while at the same time either destroy the opposing castle or capture their flag for victory. While it's a simple premise, there is a complex micro and macro management system in place to keep the game fresh and challenging. In the beginning, there are only basic troops and ballista that are available for use. As the player proceeds further into the game’s story, more troops, ballista, magic and stat-boosting castle rooms unlock to allow the player to make a force that fits their own play style and strategy.
The RPG elements add a layer of depth to Castlestorm that keeps gamers engaged. Everything in your arsenal has a level, and at the end of each stage you get gold used to upgrade them. At first, the upgrades cost a minimal amount but like any good RPG they keep getting higher and higher. Normally grinding is a bad thing, however, that pesky annoyance is alleviated by the multiplayer system. Grab a friend and play in multiple modes like versus or team survival that allows you to earn gold to boost your troops in a more enjoyable environment than constantly replaying the same stage over and over again.
This is not a graphical powerhouse, but it is not the type of game that is hampered by non-Hollywood visuals. The character designs look crisp and clean, with enough variety to set them apart from each other on the screen. That way in the heat of battle players know who is who. Nothing is more annoying than mistaking your healer for your knight in a strategy game. The backgrounds are nice to look at when there is a quick second of relaxation between waves, and some of the environments, like the trees, are not static and move in the background to spruce things up.
The castle’s physics engine is the high point of the game’s visuals because of all the wreckage that piles up, causing domino-like damage to friend and foe on the battlefield. Hurl a rock at the tower and enjoy the debris falling into everything causing collateral damage with a seamless flow. That collateral damage has a subtle effect in the battle as it can block shots as it falls, making timing important in the real-time environment.
Even though there is a story to the game, it won’t win any awards, but it is not meant to. It is standard sword and sorcery fare designed to give the player a reason to have fun when going from stage to stage. Yet what impressed me the most is the fresh take on an introduction. It was enjoyable to listen to a poem built around the game’s lore rather than the prototypical couple paragraphs of boring backstory in most games. I hope future games by Zen Studios takes the same approach as it is an easy way to differentiate themselves from other smaller companies.
Strategy games live and die by how balanced the game is. If anything is overpowered then it takes away from the strategic depth and fun, essentially making it a one-trick game. Castlestorm offers the player two sides to choose from, Kingdom or Vikings, with different units and weapons for each that have their own advantages and disadvantages. The stats of each unit are well balanced to the point where even the scrub foot soldier has a place in any army, which is playfully poked at during the storyline. The story gradually unlocks all the units, allowing the player to learn their tricks one at a time, but nothing prevents using end-level units like the golem when replaying the beginning levels.