STAFF REVIEW of CastleStorm (Xbox One)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014.
by Adam Dileva

CastleStorm Box art We’re definitely in an age where remakes, HD versions, and Definitive Editions are quite common with the new consoles that are almost a year old. Everyone wants to see their older and favorite games in 1080p 60FPS in HD and Zen Studios knows this, creators best known for their fantastic pinball games, so they have released CastleStorm: Definitive Edition for Xbox One owners to enjoy. Most HD remakes simply throw a new coat of paint on top of the older game and try to sell it as brand new, but Zen Studios has taken their time and not only slapped that fresh coat of paint on so it looks great but have also included all of the DLC from the original game, added new modes, and a ton of new features as well.

If you mashed up Angry Birds and Tower Defense, then place it in a medieval setting, CastleStorm would most likely be the result. A 2D physics-based games where your goal is to destroy the enemies and their castle that sits not so far away and threatens your own kingdom. Using your trusty ballista, you’ll not only be firing at approaching Viking enemies, but you’ll also have access to an arsenal of special magic abilities, numerous ammunition types, and even be able to control the hero of the story by getting into the thick of combat yourself.

You control Sir Gareth, a poster boy stereotype of what a noble knight should look like and act. He is determined to save the king and defend his kingdom’s castle against the growing Viking attacks, as they want to steal one of the magical crystals being held behind its walls. To do so you’ll have to man your castle's ballista to shoot oncoming waves of enemies, like any good tower defense game, but also have to manage using special powers and even command troops if you want to be successful. When things get really tough, Gareth himself can be controlled in battle. The story itself has a silly and predictable premise, but it’s full with cheesy jokes and funny characters that keep it entertaining. While you won’t really care about the characters in any way, the jokes are enough to keep you moving forward through missions and unlocking new items to use.

CastleStorm is a tower defense game at its core but combines physic based destruction with resource management and having to be able to multitask very quickly when difficult waves of enemies start to pound at your castle’s gate. Even better, your missions can vary and not every level is simply ‘destroy their castle’. You may have to do so without your ballista or troops, where other missions may have you simply defending yourself for a set amount of time, not allowing them to steal your flag. The scenario change is a welcome change to a tired formula.

One of the first things you’ll want to do is build your own castle in the tower construction editor. Here you can completely customize how you want your tower to look, though it’s not only for show, as if you build a sturdy and fortified castle, it will withstand harder battles and be the last castle standing. You need to construct your building strategically, as the types of barracks and bonus item rooms you place determine which troops and resources you’ll have in battle. Placement is everything as well, because if your room that holds your troops barracks gets destroyed in battle, you lose access to those troops until the mission ends. So experiment with what works for you and save multiple variations of your castle to load for different scenarios.

You’ve got three different ways to attack your enemies, each type of which is mapped to each of the face buttons for ease of use. The ‘A’ button is the attack you’ll be using the most, as this is to fire your ballista. Aimed with the left stick, shooting your arrows will be your most constant source of damage, though these simply arrows can be traded out later for grenades and other high damage ammunition as well. You’ll aim your ballista at oncoming enemies or even their castle to use your special explosives when their timer has reset. Once you unlock all of the ammo types, experiment and find what works best for your play style as most missions have more than one determined win path.

When you’re not firing your arrows, you can spawn your trusty troops with the ‘X’ button. Troops not only will walk forward and attack enemies in range, but they’ll also try and steal the enemies’ flag once you’ve broken down their gate. Troop spawning is where the resource management comes into play, as you’ll need a certain amount of food to spawn specific troops. The higher level and more powerful troops obviously require a lot more food to spawn and they also have much larger rooms to compensate for when creating your castle in the editor. Archers stay back and pelt arrows where knights will slowly move forward and hack and slash enemies in their way. There are priests if you want to heal, mounted units, and even eventually rock golems and griffins for extreme damage. Keep in mind though, your ballista shots can and will hurt your own troops, so you’ll need to watch where you’re aiming while troops are on the field.

Lastly, the ‘Y’ button is how you’ll command your special powers and magic. The most used will probably be the Hero Summon ability, where you can control your hero on the battlefield for a short period of time, allowing you to thin the enemy ranks when it’s really needed. Other magic abilities you’ll eventually gain allow you to cast some powerful magic either against the Vikings or to protect your castle and units. The ‘B’ button is used as well, and you can tap it to have everyone on your team go into a defensive position when you’re about to get hit by the enemy.

So if you’ve played CastleStorm previously on Xbox 360 or elsewhere before, you’re probably wondering what’s new in this Definitive Edition. The game has its full campaign that you’ve previously played, but also comes with the two expansions that released for it: From Outcast to Savior and Warrior Queen. I was quite surprised by the length of the base game itself, so there’s a lot of gameplay to be had here. The game displays in full HD 1080P 60FPS and looks fantastic with its new models, textures, shadows, and particles. There are new survival battles, almost a dozen new magic spells, and even an improved split-screen mode.

CastleStorm also offers local and online multiplayer for you and your friends to enjoy. At the time of this writing I was unable to find any matches to play for myself with the game being unreleased, but there is a healthy amount of options for you to enjoy. Versus mode is a simple 1 vs 1, online or off, and uses the troops and weapons you’ve previously unlocked. Survival Co-op sounds awesome, as two players play together on the same team fending off against endless waves of enemies, one controlling the ballista and the other the hero.

I never got around to playing CastleStorm previously on PC or Xbox 360, so I was unsure what to expect. To be completely honest, I was expecting a shallow tower defense-like game that I would forget after doing this review. Luckily that’s not the case here, as I’ve come to enjoy CastleStorm’s nuanced gameplay and strategic mechanics. You’re rewarded for not only accuracy but your success is actually up to you, as if you build a castle with the ‘wrong’ troops and bonuses, you might not fair too well. With a ton of side missions and multiple difficulty levels, there is plenty of content to keep you coming back and playing over and over again. As you earn gold you can upgrade your weapons, troops, and magic, and even though the upgrades themselves are a little shallow, it allows you to cater your favorite abilities to your play style.

CastleStorm contains a lot of value for the $9.99 asking price. It’s put together very well, has a great style to it, and can be as difficult as you want it to be. You’ll have seen all of these mechanics before in other games, but Zen Studios has blended them together very well in an easy to understand way. It’s charming, addictive, and even has ‘arrow to the knee’ jokes included. Now arm your ballista and start taking out that enemy castle!

Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 8.5 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 7.5 / 10


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