Monday, 17 June 2013

Review: CastleStorm (XBLA)

Ninjas versus pirates. Birds versus pigs. With CastleStorm on XBLA, add knights versus vikings to the list of enemies that don't like each other very much in tower defense-type games. But this isn't a typical tower defender. CastleStorm relies on a lot more strategic elements, including deploying troops and creatures on enemies and unleashing heroes with classic old-school hack & slash brawling to bring victory and vanquish the opposing castle dwellers.

CastleStorm is more than just an Angry Birds copycat. There is more than one way to win besides knocking down walls, although the best strategy is to pound the enemy's castle and secure a win through destroying theirs first.

Doing so employs various methods, because simply sending projectiles continuously over the walls into the enemy castle won't work. Gamers will have to protect their own castle, and send out troops and heroes at strategically good times along with implementing magic. Victory can be had by capturing the enemy flag, too, but that is much more difficult, especially after advancing deeper into the game.

It's more than just arrows that will be flying over castle walls. Apple grenades, boulders, busted armor, homing eagles and flying sheep will be able to be catapulted into enemy castles or enemies. Each projectile can be upgraded to stronger and more powerful versions along the way.

To shoot any projectile, gamers use a ballista directional guide. But it can get a little too loose and hard to see, especially on long-distance shots. It takes some getting used to, but after a few levels it isn't as difficult to use.

An army can be used, also, with various types of soldiers and warriors, each with strengths that can be exploited against your enemy. Eventually, gamers will get to play as the Vikings in the form of the Viking resistance. Swordsmen provide the muscle, clerics the holy protection, and various others fill in the ranks such as catapult bearers and hammer throwers. There are also creatures of various kinds to use, from wolves and griffins to dragons, stone golems and mountain trolls. Armies are built using pilfered gold, so the more gold gamers can get by killing enemies and destroying castles, the bigger the army can be (with a size limit, however).

These are NPC characters for the most part, although gamers can have them collectively "duck" incoming projectiles manually. Using troops at the right time is key, also, as is avoiding "friendly fire" taking out the wrong troops, which can happen rather easily if gamers aren't careful.

Where gamers get total control is when CastleStorm goes old-school 2D brawler on the enemy. Each side has "heroes" that can be used to clear off the between-castle battlefield of advancing enemies, in 2D side-scroller hack & slash fashion, vanquishing all the enemies that hero can within a timed limit. Usually the best strategy is to wait for a particularly large contingent of enemies headed toward the castle's front door and mowing them down, although there is usually an opposing hero or "tank" character to deal with. Heroes can be leveled up, and particularly later in the game's campaign, it will be a necessity to have a powerfully powered-up hero.

Castles can be edited with various room add-ons that are unlocked and can be upgraded. The castle editor a good idea, but most may find it is just as easy to use one of the default castles and still be victorious. In addition to the single-player campaign, there are a few multiplayer options. Multiplayer works very well via Xbox Live, too, as the game plays just as smoothly battling Xbox Live foes as it does in single-player campaign. There are also co-op options gameplay options.

More than just the typical tower defense game, CastleStorm packs a thunder and lighting one-two punch with a stellar single-player campaign that has plenty of strategy and old-school hack & slashing along with a solid online mode when it's time to test the tower defending mettle against human adversaries.

- Lee Cieniawa

The Good:
- Great mix of tower defense and old-school 2D hack & slash brawling, with plenty of different strategies to use, including attacks of weaponry, troops and magic, to implement to secure victory
- Nice handful of game modes besides the story, including online play that plays just as smooth as single-player

The Bad:
- Ballista directional guide too loose at times and hard to see, especially on long-distance shots
- Castle editor a good idea, but most may find it is just as easy to use one of the default castles and still be victorious

Score: 9.0 / 10