CastleStorm (XBLA) Review

CastleStorm (XBLA) Review

What we liked:

+ Unique combination of mechanics
+ Lots to customize

What we didn't like:

- Game can't decide what it is
- Can't escape Angry Birds comparisons
- Gets repetitive

DEVELOPER: Zen Studios   |   PUBLISHER: Microsoft Game Studios   |   RELEASE: 05/29/2013


Takes aim at too many targets.

Some games are easy to classify into one category or another, like first person shooters and RPG’s. Others, like Castle Storm, feel like a bunch of different experiences put into a blender, and nearly impossible to describe. Almost all of the elements of Castle Storm are recognizable from other sources, but the combination here is unique. Unfortunately, most of those elements are done better elsewhere, and by choosing to take so many different paths Castle Storm fails to excel at any of them.

The background for Castle Storm is a war between Knights and Vikings over the goddess gems, which protect their individual realms. The Vikings have stolen the Knights’ gem, and Sir Gareth steps forward to lead the charge retrieving it. Over the course of the game Sir Gareth will use his ballista, troops and even himself to wage war against the Viking onslaught.

From the beginning the Angry Birds parallels are impossible to ignore. Sir Gareth fires projectiles at both the advancing troops and the castle they come from, trying to crumble its walls. Among those projectiles are ones that explode and even some that split into three pieces as they fly. It even grades levels on a star system, in this case based on a combination of accuracy, difficulty and whether or not the bonus objective was achieved. There is more to it than Angry Birds, but the game doesn’t do itself any favors coming out of the gate with so many similarities.

Wars are not won through the air alone, and as the game progresses players will unlock ground troops like infantry and archers that can aid in the fight. Magic spells are also unlocked, including one that will transport Sir Gareth to the battlefield himself, where he can use his sword and bow to take on the enemy personally. Objectives vary from mission to mission, but in general, a round is lost if the enemy is able to capture the Knights’ flag and carry it back to their base.

Every weapon or troop in the game has a recharge time, and the game is really about managing those times. While the basic harpoon is always available, the best weapons can only be fired so often, so choosing the right time to use them is critical. The same goes with magic spells, which include both the offensive and troop boosting variety. Deciding what to attack is also key on some levels, as players have the option to attack the Viking troops on the field with the ballista, or go after the castle that is spawning them.

Castles can be modified and equipped with rooms that will allow for more troops or faster troop regeneration. There is a full castle editor available, allowing players to build not only towards their strengths on the battlefield, but also to better protect their flag. Certain rooms like a pantry will allow for quicker troop deployment, while a wine cellar will aid in their motivation and increase the likelihood that they will attack first in battle.

Actions in the game generate coins, which can be used to upgrade anything, from ammunition to the strength of troops and as far as potency of magic spells. More coins are generated from better play, including head shots and kill streaks, either with the ballista or Sir Gareth himself. Scoring five consecutive kills with the ballista triggers something similar to NBA Jam’s “On Fire” mode, where for a limited time, all ammunition is available with no recharge times.

Because the game has so many facets, Castle Storm requires constant switching between menus as I attempted to manage shots, troops and magic spells. Each one has a dedicated button on the control pad to change to that menu, and within the menus the left and right bumpers navigate the options. I wished that the ballista menu defaulted to the standard harpoon rather than the last ammunition used, because more than once I found myself needing to get off a quick shot, only to get to the menu and realize I needed to scroll over to select the ammunition I actually had available.

You told me you loved me.

The game controls well, especially given everything that is going on at one time. Shots are aimed with the left stick, and fine adjustments can be made with the D Pad, although I was always in too much of a hurry shooting to actually use that. The graphics have a cartoony look with a slight edge that matches the feel of the game, and the music is quite catchy. The dialog (text only) had some attempts at humor, but they mostly fall flat.

My issue with Castle Storm is that in attempting to do so many different things, it creates a jumble of systems that have to be juggled. Trying to manage troop deployment, while determining whether or not to attack Vikings or their castle, all the while trying to keep my flag out of enemy hands became a real juggling act. Too often, once the enemy had captured the flag, initially it was impossible to get it back, especially if it was taken by a troll or other large enemy troop. There is also friendly fire, which made things difficult in the heat of battle when I was trying to provide support for troops surrounded by enemies.

Some levels come up with reasons (like a troop strike) to eliminate one of the variables, and those are often easier to handle. The game supports both local and online play in various game types, but during my time I wasn’t able to get an online game going to test how it played out.

There’s nothing inherently broken about Castle Storm, it just tries to do too much for its own good. It doesn’t help that the base concept is still very derivative either, and I couldn’t shake the Angry Birds vibe I was getting throughout. After a while the missions start to blend in with each other, and the feeling of repetition really starts to sink in. For 800 points there are better, more cohesive games available.

Review copy of game provided by publisher.

Dave Payerle
Dave enjoys playing video games almost as much as he enjoys buying video games. What his wife calls an "online shopping addiction" he calls "building a library". When he's not digging through the backlog he's hunting for loot in Diablo or wondering when the next Professor Layton game is coming.

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