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 Fortnight have mixed base building with third-person survival shooting, providing an exceedingly popular mix of genres.
With CastleStorm’s journey onto the Nintendo Switch, developer Zen Studios (Planet Minigolf, Pinball FX 3) 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, fifteen-dollar title. Save for a few control issues in undocked mode, the game makes a solid showing on the Switch.
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 controller cycles through an arsenal which becomes 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 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. A single stage focused on overpowered the enemy with foot soldiers is enough to install the basic tenets of management. Here, you’ll shift through available combatants, with a button press initiating both a build order and deployment. 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 at you at once. 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. But, 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 building-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 provide 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 challenges 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 same blemish across these ancillary undertakings is that your progress in the single-player mode doesn’t carry over into the competitive area.
Mechanically, the Switch version of CastleStorm includes all of he features, modes, and extras of the console and PC release. And delightfully, the port is proficient, with the game running at a fairly steady sixty frames per second, even in undocked mode. But play on the system’s diminutive 6.2 inch touchscreen makes some of the game’s elements a bit hard to see; you might have to squint to keep your eyes fixed on your ballista trajectory. And while playing a local match with rivals sharing the Switch’s two Joy-Cons is possible, expect the proceedings to feel like a comedy of errors as the precision is lost when using the tiny controllers.
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 developer, 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.
CastleStorm was played on the Switch with review code provided by the publisher.