A great arcade tower defense title
Summary : A great modern take on the 2D, 2 base, tower defense format which has quite a few strategic and customization intricacies that give it quite a bit of depth. Just don't take an arrow to the knee.
Zen Studios is a name that many gamers associate with the expansive Pinball FX game with its countless themed and licenced pinball tables. You might be interested to know that Zen Studios also has another game, one which was recently released for the Xbox One: CastleStorm: Definitive Edition. Making use of a 2D, 2 base, tower defence structure, Zen Studios brings back the age-old genre with heartening soul and innovation, and adds in a bit of slapstick humour to boot. Let’s check it out.
Believe it or not, in a game as simple and straightforward as CastleStorm, there is in fact a story mode. Despite the fact that a large proportion of the missions take the standard form of pitting two bases against each other, CastleStorm tries to invent a storyline chock full of inconveniences and humorous situations. Ultimately though, while amusing and engaging at first, all the stages and their underlying story end up getting lost in the repetition of the gameplay.
To their credit, Zen Studios does try to stop this monotony happening, usually be inserting a tutorial-like stage which gives you a chance to practice some of the more advanced techniques in the game, ones you probably wouldn’t touch normally. It’s a nice attempt at breaking up the generally one dimensional storyline as well as giving you a chance to try something new, and probably saves the story from becoming entirely forgettable.
You could easily imagine that there isn’t much that tower defence games could do that would surprise us, but I was definitely surprised at the sheer amount of diversity in CastleStorm’s gameplay. While many levels of the story, and indeed multiplayer, are laid out in the same 1-vs-1 orientation, the deployment of different weapon layouts and troop configurations can mean the difference between winning and utter destruction.
There are essentially two ways that a match in CastleStorm can be won – by destroying your opponent’s castle, or utterly embarassing them by stealing the flag from their base. These of course, when reversed, are ways that you can lose. As you can imagine then, a lot of the time you will be tailoring your loadout to the way of play – like the play the short game and attempt to steal the other side’s flag? Load up on heavy duty troops. Want to play the waiting game? Load up on siege weapons and torch their castle from afar. In fact, there are many other ways you can decide to strategize your attack, and some are better than others, but the sheer number of options and combinations that you can choose from is pretty mind boggling. And that’s without even mentioning the ability to customize every facet and layout of your castle.
That in itself is probably one of CastleStorm’s greatest strengths and weaknesses. It’s a strength because it gives players the flexibility to play however they want with whatever they want. It also introduces replayability into the game as you’ll want to see if some of the other weapons and troops aren’t just a little bit better suited to your style of play. That’s a double-edge sword, of course, because as a relatively casual game, it’s erring on the side of complicated, and as a game that I have rather enjoyed on a lazy weekend afternoon, that’s entirely too much thinking for me. Having said that, you don’t have to play it that way, and although CastleStorm is surprisingly strategic, for those who are looking for a bit of a strategy romp between games should definitely give it a go.
The controls in CastleStorm are a mixed bag. There’s definitely a learning curve to it and while firing a standard ballista is pretty easy, the ability to multitask and switch between laying siege to the enemy castle, building troops, and firing various other projectiles is definitely a challenge even if you are familiar with the controls. It’s actually pretty impressive that Zen Studios has managed to make this many possible commands available all from one controller, however the pace of the game will often have you scrambling to figure out which button to press.
CastleStorm is distinctly medieval and the level design and character models all look the part while saturated in wonderfully bright colours. The 3D character models are goofy and disproportionate, which perfectly fits the unusual story and theme of the game. The level design is beautiful, and although it’s pretty hard to make a 2D landscape look different over and over, Zen Studios does a good job of mixing it up. CastleStorm looks great on the Xbox One, though I have a feeling it also looked great on the last-gen consoles as well.
Music was one of my biggest gripes with CastleStorm. I’m big on music in games and movies creating the right atmosphere in a game, and it’s not that CastleStorm has bad music – in fact, it’s appropriately themed, has quite a lot of depth and is a neat mashup of classical and pop – it’s the fact that it feels too urgent all the time. While I understand the theme of the music and how it fits in the game, quite often it feels like you’re in the equivalent of a medieval dance party, even in menus, which for me was a little bit distracting.
CastleStorm seems like the perfect one-vs-one multiplayer game for a quick, satisfying encounter. And sure enough, the game is a hoot when played with local multiplayer with the person sitting next to you. Unfortunately, online multiplayer is a different story – the game is about two months from its release on Xbox One and I have been yet to connect to an online game – maybe the CastleStorm community isn’t awake when I am, or there is some matchmaking funniness that I don’t know about, which is a shame. This being the case, I won’t judge CastleStorm on its multiplayer as I’m sure it would be just as good as local multiplayer if it worked for me.
At the cost of an Xbox arcade game ($19.99 AUD here in Australia), there’s not much not to like about CastleStorm. Sure there are some niggling things that bug me personally, but the core mechanics of the game are great and if you’re looking for a casual game to enjoy that can get a little more strategic if required, then CastleStorm: Definitive Edition is definitely a game to pick up. For more information about the game, visit its Xbox Store page here