Review: CastleStorm by Zen Studios

CastleStorm screenshot - pretty battleground
Review: CastleStorm by Zen Studios

Platforms: Windows PC, XBOX 360, PS3, Vita, Wii U

Game Name: CastleStorm

Publisher: Microsoft Studios, Zen Studios

Developer: Zen Studios

Genre: Strategy, Action

Release Date: May 29th, 2013

CastleStorm: What We Think

From Zen Studios the good people that brought us some of the most creative digital Pinball table configurations ever (Pinball FX 1 and 2) – from Marvel and Star Wars to custom themes varying from muscle cars to paranormal activities, comes a whole new kind of idea: CastleStorm is a sideways strategy game that incorporates elements of Angry Birds-style physics-based tower defense, RPG and realtime action combat. The developer blurb mentions that the game was inspired by childhood LegoTM play involving building up and destroying constructs.

The solo campaign is not massive but a satisfying brunch that serves as a tutorial through at least the first 20 levels; each level either unlocks a new unit type, bonus room, skill or demonstrates a new tactic.

CastleStorm screenshot - item upgrades
CastleStorm inventory screenshot – Les unlockables…

The animation, done in a 3D style very much like Zen’s pinball titles is humorous mad not above scatalogical jokes, but it works with the over-the-top setting. There is nothing to offensive for gamers of any age here and indeed it almost has a childlike bent.

Fetchez La Vache!

You will find that a major mechanic is the use of your ballista to launch various items, from a single spear, to bombs and morningstars, either at incoming bad guys or at the enemy’s castle. You can also jump into the fray with your hero (when the cooldown timer permits) and hack n’slash, special attack or shoot arrows at the mobs coming your way.

One of the novel items I liked was the potion you can lob at enemy units to turn them to your side; you can select a particularly powerful unit to suddenly switch sides and attack its former peers. Another is the eagle – also launched from your ballista, that attacks enemies with high precision, before making a final spin at their castle where it kamikaze dives and takes out a chunk of real estate.

CastleStorm screenshot - pretty battleground
A beautiful setting for a merciless battle to the death…

While all this is happening, you are also deploying troops of your own to defend your castle. While sometimes the challenge is to clear out all the enemies, other times it is to fell their castle, while at other times it may be to return your flag to home base.

Though we have seen all of these mechanics in other games, I can’t think of a game where all of these mechanics are in play at once, at least in this way.

Castle Smashers

Castles cannot be repaired or constructed once a battle scenario has commenced, rather they are designed in an editor, wherein a variety of different castle configurations can be saved. You can build your castle as far as your allotment points allow.

CastleStorm screenshot - castle editor
Castle editor – Set ’em up and knock ’em down

There is some strategy required as the elements you select determine which types of troops and resources will be available during battle. Every item and room and troop that you unlock can be further upgraded so long as you have the gold to spend, which you earn in combat.

Peasant Company Expected

CastleStorm features multiple modes of multiplayer action for both local and online play: one-on-one split-screen mode, a co-op survival mode wherein you team up to ward off waves of enemies together (one player controls the ballista, the other manages ground forces) and finally a mode where both players combat endless waves while each controlling a hero.

I had a bit of a hard time finding opponents in online multiplayer but I would be willing to chalk this up to the strange hours I keep. Also, I found it a little awkward that – once you have deployed a hero to combat – you must run out his 20 second timer or die, before you can switch back to your other defensive options. I would rather be able to park the hero somewhere relatively quiet, switch back to deploying troops and then toggle back to the realtime action on the fly.

Another Storm Looms

Since its release, two DLCs have been released that each add new unit types and twenty new scripted battles respectively, so there is a lot more content available once you are done with the vanilla offering.

The game offers keyboard mouse or full controller support and I found both control methods to be comfortable and offer their own experience. While there is some precision required in that you can pinpoint headshots at long range – and, when zoomed out, these targets can be rather small – the controller still provided enough ease of use to not make it absolutely necessary to rely on mouse-precision; there is a faint white arc that plots the path of your ballista’s fodder, and spells are targeted by a white glowing shaft that jumps between targets as you desire.

CastleStorm screenshot
CastleStorm screenshot – your awesome ballistic aim is trending!

Perhaps my only real reticence is that, in spite of the many genres being blended together here, and obvious attempts by the designers to create variety by nerfing certain elements for different challenges, the gameplay can become a little repetitive. That said, they have done much to dress it up and make it a very enjoyable experience and I had no trouble seeing the game through to its scripted completion.

It only makes sense that a developer focused on pinball physics might attempt to segue into other genres by creating another physics-based title. CastleStorm is a fitting tribute to their consistently high quality design and all that they have learned from years of working with such mechanics, but I would love to see them take it even further.

Nonetheless, this is a polished, rather novel take on physics-based tower defense that I recommend for easy pick up and play, and substantial levity and eye candy to boot.

CastleStorm – Official Site

Get CastleStorm at the XBOX Live Marketplace

Get CastleStorm for SONY Playstation 3 and Vita

Get CastleStorm on Steam

[xrr rating=”4/5″]

Watch the CastleStorm Launch Trailer from Zen Studios: