by Christopher Coke
reviewed on PC
Tower Defense PLUS...
CastleStorm is an unlikely follow-up to Zen Studio's previous efforts, Zen Pinball and Zen Pinball 2, but it lacks none of the polish and tight design that secured their place in the zeitgeist. Expertly blending genres, CastleStorm adds a dash of Angry Birds, a palmful of tower defense, and a pinch of real-time strategy to create a flavor all of its own. Drawing from so many different inspirations, it would have been easy for CastleStorm to lose balance. CastleStorm is a game of the middle-ground, lighthearted and funny, always touching on its inspirations but never feeling forced. Being a micro-manager is a requirement but it remains well worth a look.
Everything in CastleStorm carries a “plus.” It is a tower defense game PLUS a castle destroyer. It features projectile launching PLUS spells and action combat. It includes real-time strategy unit management PLUS RPG-style upgrades. This framework makes for an experience that is hard to convey without experiencing first-hand, but also one with an unusual amount of depth for the tower defense genre. There is so much going on that it is, iconically, easy to play and hard to master.
Basic gameplay is classic tower defense. Enemies march across the screen towards a base, upon which you sit with a ballista. Each encounter is mission-based and victory requires stopping the enemies before they reach your castle. You do this by shooting them from afar, spawning hero characters and soldiers, casting spells, and ultimately, destroying their castle before they destroy yours (or capturing their flag). The ballista is your main tool and projectiles fly with the same loose physics as the Angry Birds franchise. Some even function using identical mechanics to that series, such as exploding apples, rocks that split in three, and flatulent sheep who surge forward with an extra mouse-click.
The game begins gracefully, empowering the player with single ballista bolts and slow-moving targets. It introduces each new element with scenarios designed for success. Before long, the ability to send ground troops becomes available, but only if enough food resources are available to feed them. Playable hero characters make their entrance, pulling the camera into the battlefield for hack-and-slash battles. New projectiles unlock alongside new, tougher enemies. In just a few short levels, players use each of these elements and begin micro-managing a simultaneous defense and offensive strike.
Initially, bouncing between these elements feels a bit like juggling. The tutorial missions do an excellent job of explaining how to use each available tool, but fail to emphasize how much interplay each one has with the next. Resources need to be watched and soldiers continuously spawned, but that can be safely ignored up until the point where it can't. This point in the learning curve feels like trial by fire; not unfair, but a definite ramp up. Thankfully, the UI is more than up to the task and provides quick and easy access to each intertwined system.
Sid Meier famously described a game as a “series of interesting choices.” Zen Studios took that description to the bank with CastleStorm. Strategy is a requirement of success and there is an absolute need to make decisions on the fly. Certain projectiles bounce off enemies with nary a scratch, and certain soldiers should never be faced against specific enemies. A complete upgrade system also comes with the game and brings with it a whole new layer of choices.
Gold is the reward in CastleStorm and arguably the most important element. As you play, slaying enemies and completing missions rewards it, but so do completing optional objectives, scoring headshots, and going on kill-streaks. Taking that gold to the equipment menu is equally important. There you can purchase boosts to every weapon and soldier at your disposal. The hook to this system is that gold runs out quickly and needs to be re-earned. The more you play, the more power you gain, and the more you can customize your tools to match your playstyle.
Easy blend of multiple genres, consistently rewarding, funny
Can be overwhelming, poor game pad controls