“Definitive” is the latest buzzword to be introduced to an industry seemingly built on them, but what it actually means is “now on next-gen consoles”. As we wait patiently for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One to fill up their catalogues with new titles, we’re being treated (and most of them are treats) to re-jigged versions of already-released titles, more often than not tweaked for 1080p and 60fps – a graphical upgrade which seems enough to justify a re-release all on its own.
CastleStorm, from Zen Studios (the team behind several awesome Pinball series, among other things), is the most recent title to make the transfer across generations, and it’s a welcome addition to the line-up despite the lack of significant change. A hybrid of RTS, Tower Defence, action and Angry Birds, CastleStorm is one of the more interesting titles to occupy that odd middle ground between indie and AAA, combining highly addictive gameplay with bright, colourful visuals to deliver an experience that is nothing short of charming.
The narrative centres on a fantasy world where knights and Vikings warred for centuries, until a Goddess cried two tears that turned to magical crystals. Each side took one, and peace reigned for decades, until the Vikings got greedy and decided they wanted both. Your part in the ensuing war is to defend your king and country as Protector of the Realm, a quintessential hero knight with blond hair, blue eyes and shiny shining armour. Armed with a sword and shield or a bow, you’ll be tasked with either heading out to meet the enemy head on, or leading the royal defenses to repel invaders.
Initially presented as a 2D physics game, CastleStorm gives you a meagre arsenal to begin with, affording you nothing but a ballistae with which to perforate hairy Viking skulls. As the game progresses you’ll unlock more, from huge spiked bolas to explosive missiles, and you’ll be able to deploy troops to defend you on the ground. The strategy element exists because troops cost food, and food costs time, so you’ll need to use your weaponry (all working on cooldowns) to keep the enemy at bay until you can field reinforcements.
From ground troops and archers to trolls, direwolves and champions, the enemy comes at you in steady waves, mixing it up enough that you’ll need to employ a combination of defensive strategies to stay in the game. If they take down your wall and make it back to base with your flag, it’s over. As with most games of this ilk, you can be riding high one minute and in a world of doodoo the next thanks to one bad decision or imprecise shot. If you do win the day, you’ll be rewarded with gold to spend on upgrades and new weapons or soldiers.
The targeting isn’t always as exact as you’d like, and sometimes the bright colours make it hard to discern exactly what’s going on during a fight or how much damage you’re doing to the enemy castle, but patience is usually the key to victory. Taking your time to line up a shot is way more effective than blind-firing, especially when you’re aiming to clean up on bonuses for, say, getting 20 headshot kills. The controls are simple enough, even during the missions where your plucky, chiselled hero heads out onto the field himself and you take total, single control of him. It’s an excellent change of pace, even if he does move a little ponderously sometimes.
The multiplayer mode ups the ante by pitting you against another devious and free-thinking human being, but besides this the core game is identical. The AI is tough enough during later stages that I never found myself hankering after a PvP game, but the option is there for those who prefer the challenge of out-thinking a person. If nothing else, playing against a player makes every match less predictable, and demands that you use everything you’ve got to win.
A castle building mode rounds off the package, allowing you to design your own base. There are plenty of options to fortify and defend your creation, but the controls can feel a little clunky and for some reason it never feels that satisfying to use your own base – partly because the pre-made ones are perfectly functional and, despite the inclusion of some half-decent buffs, all you’re really doing is adding layers and making it harder to bring down. Though, that’s the point, I suppose.
Although CastleStorm seemed right at home on the Vita, it fits the PS4 very well, too. The bright visuals pop and sing thanks to the increased power and the game runs as smooth as butter at all times. Addictive and entertaining, CastleStorm’s mix of fairytale whimsy and challenging strategy – as well as its mishmash of play styles – makes it a solid and enticing prospect whatever the platform.
VERY GOOD. An 8/10 is only awarded to a game we consider truly worthy of your hard-earned cash. This game is only held back by a smattering of minor or middling issues and comes highly recommended.
Review code provided by publisher.