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Review: CastleStormZen Studios Microsoft Studios Xbox 360 XBLA
Developer: Zen Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Platform: Xbox 360 (XBLA)
Release Date: May 29, 2013
ESRB: T for Teen
A download code was provided by the publisher for this review
Physics-based action games have become popular again thanks to the likes of Angry Birds and smartphone games in general. Although you may dislike Angry Birds personally, there is no doubt that physics-based gameplay can be pretty fun. Zen Studios took the idea of physics-controlled play and applied it to the tower defense/offense genre to create CastleStorm for XBLA. They are mostly known for their pinball games which indeed have a strong concept of physics, but does that skill translate over to this completely different title?
It sure does. In the majority of levels, you must control a ballista to stop hordes of vikings and other enemies attempting to storm your castle. This is where the physics come in because you must aim your projectiles and hope they’ll hit an enemy square in the face or a castle right at its weak point. Although an arc is drawn for you, it isn’t always perfect as projectiles end up dropping a bit lower. At other times, there is no line available so you have to be able to calculate the arc yourself in the middle of battle.
Much of the game revolves around aiming and firing but that doesn’t make it a simple game. On the 2D plane, enemies will continue to proliferate and meander toward your castle. There are many enemy types including wolves, giant stone creatures, burly vikings, and more. Later, the enemy castles also gain a ballista with which they can lob projectiles your way as well. Things quickly become hectic. Unfortunately, the guideline for your ballista often becomes hard to see between all the action, which makes it fairly useless.
As the enemy has tons of troops and projectiles, so does the player. You gain everything through playing through campaign mode. While players start out with a very measly lot, they eventually work up to a whole bunch of goodies to use during battle. Troops, magic skills, and power-ups all can be leveled up via money procured during battles. This requires a bit of management because limited money means you cannot always upgrade every item you use, but instead carefully select the most important to increase.
More strategy comes in when factoring in the towers. A great deal of towers are unlocked during campaign mode and with good reason. At the start, you can have only a small, very unprotected castle. After a while, though, you gain access to larger ones to house your various troops in, as well as the ability to design your own castles. This aspect is important to understand, as if an enemy breaks through and demolishes one of your troop rooms, then that troop will become unavailable to summon for the rest of the mission. Similarly, if you break their rooms then they’ll lose access. If every room is destroyed then that player loses.
It may seem then that every mission could be completed quickly by simply targeting the castle. However, this trick usually doesn’t work because it leaves you wide open in the interim. You can lob projectiles away but then without placing troops to guard your castle then the enemy will have an easy path to step all over you. That’s why attention must always be paid to both the battlefield and both castles. For better or for worse, it’s also often hard to comprehend why sometimes a perfect strike will break a castle wall while other times the projectile will appear ineffective. It makes it harder to achieve an “unfair” victory, but also becomes quite the burden on rare timed missions.
Missions are not all about destroying the enemy’s castle. Goals vary by mission and oftentimes there are multiple possible goals to achieve. For example, sometimes you may get extra points for succeeding without ever using the ballista. The most common missions involve destroying castles or stealing the enemy flag, but CastleStorm does change itself up every so often with Hero mode. In this mode, you run around in a 2D beat ‘em up style mode to complete a goal. This mode can also be activated during standard battles, but only for a limited amount of time.
Although this is an XBLA title, it also manages to extend itself for a while. The main campaign takes around 5 hours to complete. One negative of this mode is that late in the game you are given a whole new series of weapons and troops to level up from scratch. After leveling up all the stuff you were familiar with prior, it feels like it had been a big waste of time. Outside of the campaign are other modes such as skirmish, survival, and last stand to play through. Each can be experienced in local or online multiplayer if you’re interested. For co-op mode, one player controls the ballista while the other takes care of summoning troops.
For all the content available, you might think CastleStorm is worth the investment. It just might be if you’re really into the idea of a physics-based tower defense game. Otherwise, it is a super dull experience. Although there is a story, it says nothing of value and isn’t even that funny. Although the gameplay is not broken it is hardly any fun either. Even casual mode becomes a bit of a challenge at certain sections.
This is a game that stands strongest as nothing more than average. It can give you your money’s worth but you won’t be filled with glee while playing. Instead, you’ll be strung through some relatively boilerplate gameplay. Even with multiplayer modes it’s not likely that you’ll want to go back to play much of them. There’s nothing wrong with CastleStorm, but nothing all that compelling either.
+ Great deal of troops/projectiles/etc
+ Strategy required for both battlefield and castles
+ Multitude of levels with varying goals
- Dull storyline and sound
- Repetitive after a while
- Doesn’t have the “spark” a good game should
Overall Score 5 (out of 10)
CastleStorm is a competent tower defense/offense title but offers little else to differentiate itself from existing products.
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