Splicing several prevailing mechanics into a single game is hardly a new concept for the industry. Early coin-ops such as Gorf and Tron recognized the virtue of variety; each cabinet provided four distinct amusements unified by a central theme. More recently, hybrids such as Puzzle Quest (and its convoy of clones) fused match-three play with light role playing elements, providing a synergistic merger of popular genres. With the release of CastleStorm onto Xbox Live, developer Zen Studios (Planet Minigolf, Pinball FX 2) plots a similar trajectory, adeptly melding modes that test marksmanship, hack-and-slack skills, as well as basic real-time strategy and role-playing adeptness. The old adage, “greater than the sum of its parts” could certainly be applied to this capably crafted, ten dollar title.
Following a succinct narrative setup which pits knights against vikings over the control of crystals with the capacity to enslave, the game’s campaign begins by teaching players the fundamentals of warfare. Initially, players command a ballista that’s mounted on a forward battlement of their castle. Echoing Angry Birds, gamers determine an effective firing angle and loadout for the substantially-sized siege weapon. Using the left and right bumpers on the Xbox 360 controller cycles through an arsenal which becoming increasingly absurd- as arrows and spiked spheres are augmented by exploding apples and flatulent sheep. While the game’s default difficultly provides a translucent guideline for the ballista, an elevated challenge level removes this assistance, obliging a healthy amount of target practice. At all challenge settings, precision is rewarded, with five successive bulls-eye’s providing temporary rapid fire capabilities.
Players are also obliged to learn the techniques of troop management, which replicate the basic controls of weapon selection. Here, using the top bumper buttons shift through the types of available combatants, with a press of “X” initiating both a build order and subsequent deployment. A single stage focused on overpowered the enemy with only foot soldiers is enough to install the basic tenets of management. Fortunately, CastleStorm’s troops are largely autonomous- with swordsmen who gradually advance on the enemy, while bowmen hang back to lob volleys of projectiles.
Direct control over a powerful hero and magic abilities are mapped to the controller’s “Y” button. Using this tool, players can teleport their conqueror to any part of the battlefield, in an effort to lay waste to enemy enforcers. With the ability to slash, jump, block, and use a bow, champions are equipped with a rewarding repertoire, allowing gamers to thrash foes such as stone ogres, dire wolves, and healing magicians into submission. While it can be aggravating to fight an army capable of restoring the health of its ranks, players can also do the same- applying curative magic to their troops or alternatively casting a damaging spell against the opposing forces.
Graciously, CastleStorm’s core campaign doesn’t throw all these elements. Instead, stages gradually invite mastery of each component, scoring players against a five-star rubric. Once the title’s components all congeal together, CastleStorm’s skirmishes intensify, with players juggling multipliable roles of siege warfare. On the upside, the title is delightfully hectic- able to transform ten minute skirmishes into what seems like a fraction of that time span. Regretfully, the game’s frantic pace doesn’t allow for much tactical nuance. One example: troop behavior is determined solely by type, constraining the approaches players can use to either crumple their opponent’s castle or capture their flag.
However, a bit of strategy is available off the battlefield. Utilizing a build-block approach, gamers may build their own structures. This provides to be an appealing auxiliary activity- as balancing structural integrity with the perks provided by building certain types of rooms offers a wealth of risk/reward possibilities. Thankfully, players with no architectural ambitions can get through the game with the supplied set of strongholds. Each fallen foe and conquered stage provides a substantial amount of currency that can be used to augment meanly every offensive and defensive tool in the game. As such, if players ever encounter a seemingly insurmountably adversary, a bit of the old grinding should provide a palpable advantage.
Gamers may also secure extra coin by facing CastleStorm’s satisfying selection of supplementary modes. Both Survival and Hero Survival tasks stalwart champions with thwarting waves of increasingly powerful opponents. Enjoyably, these challenge can be confronted by on- or offline compatriots and are scaled for solitary players. Skirmish mode pits the Norse and Knight castles against each other, granting access to CastleStorm’s collection of mechanics. The some blemish across these ancillary undertakings is that your progress in the single-player mode doesn’t carry over into the competitive area.
Although CastleStorm’s (admittedly attractive) screenshots might cultivate feelings of familiarity, in execution the title is thoroughly engaging. In the hands of a less component developers, the game’s stitching of established mechanics might have resulted in a Frankenstein’s monster of muddled segments, shambling its way through a disjointed experience. Yet, Zen Studios’ mastery is evident, delivering a title that flaunts both playability and polish.