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CastleStorm

Alright, here’s the deal.  I’m going throw a bunch of words at you, and I want you to attempt to make sense of it.  Artillery.  Vikings.  Tower Defense.  Spells.  Bombs.  Real-Time Strategy.  Knights.  Tower Destruction.  Heroes.  Flags.  Tower Offense.  Javelins.  Cartoony.  Tower Construction.  Exploding Sheep.  2.5D Physics.  Got all that?  Good.  Now, throw all of those words into one giant blender of fun and let the blades spin for about thirty seconds.  At the end of it all, you should have a nice, rich glass of “CastleStorm”.  The closest I could come to a game that compares to this one was “Angry Birds”, but that wouldn’t do “CastleStorm” justice.  Sure, it’s got tower destruction, but it offers so much more than that.  Before we take a look at this game in further detail, I’d like to thank Mel Kirk from Zen Studios for providing me with a free review copy.

CastleStorm

CastleStorm (Windows, XBox 360)

The main menu allows the player to participate in the campaign or test their reflexes with single player, multiplayer, and co-op matches.  For those of you curious about local split-screen play, you’ll be pleased to know that the functionality exists, though the second player MUST plug in via a controller in order for it to work.  In addition to local 1 vs. 1 split-screen, players can team up in survival and last stand modes.  The former places one player in the castle’s ballista while the other controls the ground units, tasking them with fending off waves of enemies.  The latter tasks the players with the same goal but instead, both players fend off waves of enemies using heroes.  The options menu addresses keybinds, controller presets, screen resolution, fullscreen toggle, anti-aliasing, blood, inversion toggles, and audio sliders.  Leaderboards, achievements, recommendations, and download content buttons round out the main menu, with the latter three activating your Steam overlay automatically.

At heart, the game is a Knights versus Vikings tower destruction game in which players will be endeavouring to knock down the other tower and/or capture the enemy flag before their opponent does the same to them.  Players will be able to make use of ballistas to shoot projectiles at range and units to lead the assault by ground.  Before all of that occurs, you’ll need to plan the construction of your castle to ensure the well-being of your most important rooms.  Oh, and spells.  Like I said before, comparing this game to “Angry Birds” just wouldn’t be appropriate.  It’s more like “Angry Birds”, but on steroids, and infused with the raw power of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone.

CastleStorm

Though, I doubt that Arnold could pull off that viking outfit like Freia can.

Tower construction is an interesting beast.  You’ll be given access to a variety of rooms of different shapes and sizes.  What’s more, they each do something unique.  Some rooms are necessary for the spawning of certain ground units, while others might modify your side’s economy in a particular way.  For example, treasuries provide bonus gold while training rooms give your units a chance to spawn at one level higher than normal.  Not only does this allow players to build the castle that THEY want, but it allows them to shape the kind of battle they’d like to play.  To top that off, how they build their castle will determine how quickly it’ll fall in battle.  I spent hours on this particular phase of the game alone, trying to perfect the ultimate base / killing machine.  Players are limited to five barrack rooms (and thus, five unit types), but they’ll be able to save their castle design and switch out rooms in seconds, if one isn’t working out well for them.

Ground units come in various shapes and sizes, ranging from mounted knights, paladins, and swordsmen to catapult bearers, priests, and archers.  Units on the Viking side are different and it’s there that you’ll see units like mountain trolls, dragons, and dire wolves.  There are roughly nine different barrack rooms to choose from, giving you a lot of options when customizing your castle’s loadout.  It’s important to stress that where you place these rooms will greatly determine whether you’ll win or lose.  Once a room is destroyed, you’ll lose whatever unit or bonus that it happened to provide.  Units will spawn when you wish them to, but it’s important to keep in mind that each one has a resource cost associated with it.  The more expensive units tend to be more powerful, but I found that a good mix of units is key to countering enemy ground assaults.  This particular portion of the game reminded me of “King Arthur’s World” for the SNES a bit, for those of you old enough to remember THAT console.

CastleStorm

Stone Golems are slow, but make formidable tanks. Gryphons, on the other hand, swoop and soar around the battlefield, picking off enemies that wander around below.

On occasion, you’ll be able to call forth a hero to assist your ground units in their assault.  Like “Star Wars: Battlefront II”, you’ll be able to take direct control of the hero and fight alongside your units for a limited amount of time.  They are very powerful and are able to turn the tide of a battle within seconds, if you use them properly.  Fortunately, they are not an “I WIN” button by any stretch of the imagination.  You’ll still need to manage your economy, spawn ground units, and ensure that your ballista’s shots are straight and true.  Like the rest of your rooms and units, your heroes can be upgrades with money you earn from completing missions.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a tower destruction game if there weren’t artillery goodness involved.  You’ll be able to make use of different ammo types like javelins, bombs, and explosive sheep.  Yes…I said explosive sheep.  All of these different ammo types are on their own cooldown timer, allowing you to time your volleys in a manner that you deem the most appropriate.  Spells operate much the same way in that they are each on a separate cooldown, but they do more in helping friendly units and harming enemy units than actually causing any sort of tower destruction.  Friendly fire is a danger you’ll need to contend with as well, as it’s very easy to pick off your own troops by accident when they are in close proximity to an enemy.  In terms of being easy to operate, I didn’t have any problems aiming and firing the ballista.  Challenging, yes…but not difficult to operate.

CastleStorm

Getting a 5x kill streak will enable unlimited firing (no cooldowns) for a short period of time.

The campaign is a humor-filled rollercoaster ride, though it can be a bit frustrating at times.  Some missions do away with the basic formula and add modifiers that will make you think of alternate ways to solve a problem.  For example, one mission denies you the use of your ground units, making your successes solely based on how well you can aim your ballista.  Once you fire that thing for the first time, you’ll realize just how accurate your shots will need to be to hit the intended target.  Each mission will rank you from zero to five stars and the better you do, the more money you’ll earn.  With this money, you can upgrade the units and rooms that you’ll be unlocking throughout the campaign (including those involving the Norse faction).  Not to worry, you can go back to missions you might have bombed and attempt to five-star them for a little extra cash.  Some missions have a tendency to drone on…luckily that’s what multiplayer is for.  Skirmishes against the AI are possible, for those of you who prefer to fly solo instead. Surprisingly enough, skirmishes award the player with cash too, which can then be applied to your progress in the campaign.

At the end of the day, “CastleStorm” took all of my guilty pleasures and wrapped them up in a nice, attractive bow.  I’m not going to lie, there is a lot to keep track of and your micromanagement skills will be put to the test.  You’ll often find yourself looking at your economy one second, only to be called away to your ground units who are peril the next.  There’s always something happening during battles, ensuring that boredom was just a term that one might have dreamed up in some faraway land.  Along those lines, the art style and the gameplay mechanics keep things fresh and interesting.  I really appreciated how easy it was to snap a castle together, as if it were a giant LEGO bucket that was just waiting for me let my imagination go wild.  Not everyone takes to the monotony of tower defense games in general, but there’s enough variety here to suck in even the most pessimistic individuals.  To that end, “CastleStorm” is an extremely addictive strategy game that everyone should try at least once.  “Angry Birds” fans won’t know what hit em’.

At the time of writing (7/18/13), the game is already out for the XBox 360.  The game is expected to be released for the PC on July 29th, 2013 for $9.99.

Final Verdict: 9/10

You can learn more about “CastleStorm” by visiting the following websites:

http://www.castlestormgame.com/

http://store.steampowered.com/app/241410/

You can view video play sessions here:

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