Developed By: Zen Studios
Published By: Zen Studios
Category: Action Strategy
Release Date: 8.16.18
Originally released in 2013, Zen Studios brings its hit title CastleStorm to the Nintendo Switch this week. It’s a fairly original mix of action and strategy on a two-dimensional battlefield with 3D graphics. It makes for a pretty fun time.
The Story So Far…
A century ago, two mighty nations went to war. The Kingdom and Vikingland fought a savage war which made the Peace Goddess cry bitter tears. Her tears formed two crystals, one red and one blue, and each nation took one to seal a pact to end the war. The Teardrop Gems fueled a peace between the two nations that has lasted ever since.
Jumping ahead to present day, bandits have risen up within the Kingdom against King Edgar. Sir Gareth, the brave Protector of the Realm, is tasked with putting the bandit rebellion down. After putting the bandits in their place, Gareth must confront an attack from Vikingland. He appears to have attained victory, when King Edgar runs to him from the castle bearing horrible news; The Kingdom’s Teardrop Gem has been stolen, and the Vikingland attack was merely a feint to cover the theft. Sir Gareth sets off with his old friend Friar Vic and the sketchy-looking Lord Rufus to recover the gem and bring peace back to the realm.
The game’s story is kind of a generic medieval quest for peace. The writing is clever and often amusing, but it doesn’t engender many strong emotions towards the characters. Sir Gareth is a likable enough hero and the villains are equally detestable, but I didn’t really connect with them on a deeper level. Story cutscenes provided a nice break between missions, but that’s about all they did for me.
Basics of War
CastleStorm is an interesting mix of strategy and action. I really had fun playing, but I ran into a few issues frequently enough that they’re worth mentioning. The main mechanic for the gameplay is firing a ballista from atop the gate of your castle. The main projectile is a simple ballista bolt, but additional types of ammo are unlocked as you progress through the campaign. Enemies spawn at their camp, and they march toward your castle with the intention of breaking down your castle gate and stealing your flag. Jerks. You can use your ballista to kill them, or, eventually, to attack the enemy castle directly. Knocking down all the rooms in the enemy castle is one way to win most levels. Stealing their flag will work, too, and for that you need troops of your own.
You can summon troops in exchange for food. You start out with a basic swordsman, but progressing in the campaign unlocks bigger and more powerful troops. Archers, priests, knights, and even a griffon can be summoned to your side, as long as you have enough food. Food generates automatically from the kitchen in your castle. Your troops will march toward the enemy castle, engaging enemy troops along the way. If they make it all the way to the castle, they’ll knock down the gate and steal the enemy flag for you. If they get the flag back to your castle, you win. However, if the soldier carrying the flag dies, enemy soldiers can recover the flag and return it home. So don’t let your guy die.
I’ve mentioned your castle before, and laying it out is important to surviving a level. There are a bunch of different castle layouts that are unlocked as you proceed through the campaign. Each type of soldier needs a different room in the castle to be summoned, but you can only have five different soldier types in your castle. There are other rooms that generate gold, food, and increase your troop capacity, among other things. Some rooms enhance your soldiers’ abilities or make your castle harder to destroy.
Finally for the battle system, you have a number of magic spells you can use to fight your foes or protect your allies. Some spells cause direct damage to your enemies. Some make your soldiers invincible or replenish their health, but I found these to no be that useful once I had upgraded the kitchen enough to generate food really quickly. The most useful spell is the one to summon your champion. In most of the campaign, this means you summon Sir Gareth to the battlefield and take control of him. You stop controlling the ballista for the duration of the spell, and get to rampage through the enemy lines using a variety of attacks. You can use a melee attack, you can use a ranged attack, you can block, and you can use a super attack.
Upgrades for Everyone!
Between missions, you can use the gold generated by your castle and gained from defeating enemies to purchase upgrades for your ballista, castle, troops, and spells. Upgrading your ballista ammo makes it more powerful and reduces the cooldown for using them. Upgrading your castle rooms makes them more effective, such as generating more food or gold or increasing the stat buffs they provide. Improving your troops makes them do more damage and makes them harder to kill. Finally, improving your spells increases their effect as well, and upgrading your champion makes him tougher too. Keeping up with your enemies’ level is one of the tougher aspects of the game; I often had to go back and redo missions to farm gold to make sure I didn’t fall behind. Then I played the game’s other modes and realized how silly that was.
Single and Multiplayer Challenges
There are a number of different game modes besides the main campaign. There is a multiplayer mode where you face off against another player either online or locally. You each have a castle and you must either knock their castle down or steal their flag to win. As for single player modes, there is a skirmish mode that’s basically the same as multiplayer except against an AI opponent. Survival mode sees you with your castle with endless waves of enemies coming at you. There really isn’t any winning survival mode, you just see how far you can make it. Finally, there is Hero Survival mode, which gets rid of castles and troops and all that stuff and just lets you control your hero against waves of enemies. You win gold based on how long you make it and how many enemies you defeat, and I found Hero Survival to be the easiest way to farm gold.
OK… Is it any fun?
It is! Mostly. Mowing down enemies with your ballista is pretty satisfying, but it can be hard to aim. The aiming reticle is a transparent, thin, white line. When you can see the line it’s not a problem, but sometimes it can be hard to see through the trails of previous projectiles, which look exactly the same. This often makes it hard to fire at a group of enemies. That’s what troops are for, though, so it wasn’t a huge issue unless I was low on food. But then I also hit my own troops on a non-zero number of occasions, too, because of the projectile path confusion.
You can use the Switch’s touchscreen to choose a target as well, but I found that just as hard to aim at first. After some practice it was better, but I noticed some sensitivity issues with the game not picking up when I tapped the screen. It didn’t seem to get better when I took the screen protector off, either.
The other major issue is a lack of variety. You’re either hacking or shooting, and there’s not much else to do. I found myself getting bored doing the same thing over and over again if I played too long. The visuals aren’t dynamic enough and the story isn’t engaging enough to make up for the monotony. Still, the basic idea of the game is well-executed and fun, and slashing enemies as Sir Gareth was pretty satisfying, so it’s definitely worth a playthrough.
Looks Like A Winner, Sounds like a Whimper
The game’s visuals are polished but unspectacular. The graphics were solidly designed and sharply detailed, but there wasn’t really anything strikingly original about them. They appear heavily influenced by Blizzard’s Warcraft series. Everything was smooth and there wasn’t any stuttering, so it all came out perfectly presentable, just a little generic. And while the graphics were sharp, they were also just a little bit dated looking; the game is almost five years old, after all. Still, CastleStorm is a solidly visually designed game.
The audio track for the game was pretty lackluster, though. The music was blustery and solid enough, I suppose, but there nothing especially memorable about it. The game didn’t have much in the way of voice acting, just a few short lines when a soldier is summoned or describing a battlefield development. A decent voice performance can punch up a lackluster storyline quite a bit, and a little creativity can make a minimalist use of voice work seem full of life. Overall, the audio for the game was just kind of boring.
CastleStorm doesn’t use any motion controls, but as I said before you can use the touchscreen to do pretty much anything the controller can do. I found the controller to be more responsive and easier to use overall, but your mileage may vary, as always. Graphically, the game looked as good on a TV as it did on the Switch’s screen in undocked mode, so I don’t really have a strong preference as to whether it should be played docked or undocked.
TL;DR: Solid, if monotonous gameplay and visuals, but still fun to play overall.