Hey kids! Do you like smashing stuff in Angry Birds, but wish it was just a bit more...medieval? How about a bit of troop management? Spells? Swords? Sheep? Less birds, more beards?
All this and more await you in CastleStorm!
CastleStorm (Xbox Live Arcade)
CastleStorm, simply put, is a physics-based tower defense game. Think Angry Birds meets Plants vs. Zombies and you'll have a pretty good idea of what's in store when you boot it up. You spend the majority of the game manning a ballista that can fire different artillery at foes including a standard javelin, three spears at once, shots that explode with a button press after firing, Thor's hammer Mjolnir, and so on as the enemy sends troops and their own return fire in an attempt to bring down your walls.
Targeting is fairly easy, though often touchy when battles become more heated. There's a certain level of precision needed, as the game encourages javelin headshots against enemy troops -- these reward you with additional money you can use to upgrade your stronghold, troops, and weaponry, while also being efficient.
Speaking of troops, your comrades in arms help a great deal in battle. Levels often have multiple objectives, which allow for more than one way to conquer your foes, and your troops often play a role in these differing goals. If hurling giant heavy things at the front door isn't enough to bring down their stronghold, you can send troops in to capture their flag or to draw the enemies' fire or summon creatures such as hawks, dire wolves, brutish trolls, and more while you bring the house down around your enemies' ears.
There are also spells that can protect troops, attack with powerful magic, and even allow you to briefly play as your team's champion, dealing out damage in a more up-close and personal manner.
Your champion runs on a timer, so while getting in those close, quick kills it is important to make every attack count before they're returned to the castle. While controlling the champion, it's important to note that no one will be manning the ballista when you're out hacking and slashing your way through the ranks, nor can the champion capture a flag, so they're only there to even the score, not turn the tide.
As with your troops and artillery, your spells and champion summon are mapped to a face button on the controller, and you can quickly and easily scroll through your different attack options with the bumper buttons while the battle rages on.
While CastleStorm may not be your standard tower defense fare -- you don't really have to mine for materials with which to fight like in many strategy and defense titles -- there's still some management needed, and that comes in the upkeep of your...keep. Customizing your castle with the proper food stores and barracks helps keep your troops in fighting condition and helps to replenish your fallen heroes on the field.
You're only allowed five troop types, so selecting which barracks will house what troops is key. Outfitting your castle is almost a game by itself, as the proper placement of the training grounds, barracks, and such is just another one of the many strategies you'll utilize in gameplay.
The game itself has a playful, goofy look, and it's clear it doesn't take itself very seriously. Corny jokes pepper the storyline and visuals, from Gareth, the pompous Champion of the Kingdom, to the fat friar, to the king's right-hand toadie and all-around shady character Rufus, to sheep that chew the ballista's firing mechanism, troops that ride donkeys, and more.
And while the bright, vibrant colors and lush background of the various battlefields add a nice variety to the visuals, the castle editor is another matter entirely. Rooms appear small, and often unrecognizable from each other, which makes customization take a bit longer as you click on every room that was preset to determine what's what.
The sound in the game is minimal, with battle noise clanging, crashing, and crunching appropriately. There's not a lot of voice acting per se -- much of the story is driven along via scrolling text -- but the few voices present add a certain amount of character to the action and the people you interact with. Again, there's humor throughout and the minimal voice work punctuates the gags of the text and visuals.
There's a few multiplayer options here too. Your standard split screen one-on-one battles offer some fun for two players, but there's also survival mode, where friends team up against other players or AI. The Last Stand Co-op is great fun too, where players control the heroes rather than man the ballista. The real meat and potatoes, however, is the campaign, which is where you'll end up getting all the good weapons and rooms for your castle to use in multiplayer anyway.
If the tower defense game is your thing, CastleStorm certainly offers a serviceable option to the already busy genre. Between managing your troops, attacking with the ballista, and choosing when to cast spells or send in your champion, there's a lot of challenge present. And while there may be times when it can get repetitive -- honestly, what tower defense game doesn't? -- it's certainly worth a try, even if it won't set the world on fire. Just the enemy's castle.
THE VERDICT - CastleStorm
Reviewed by Ian Bonds