Castlestorm:-The-Definitive-Edition-Review Castlestorm: The Definitive Edition Review

   23/09/2014 at 09:05       Dean Bennett       0 COMMENTS. - Score 3/5
 - Zen Studios, Angry Birds, Tower Defence, Farting Sheep

“Do you want to check out Castlestorm: The Definitive Edition?” he said. “Sure.” I said. It won’t take me long right? It’s that downloadable game from those Pinball people Zen Studios. Bish, Bash, Bosh, game complete, write some words, job done right? No, not right at all. Many hours and a few restarts later, it turned out I was very wrong indeed.

Castlestorm originally came out just over a year ago, first on 360, and then on pretty much every platform you can think of, including a f2p version on mobile devices. It reviewed pretty well, but sort of passed me by at the time. However, I like Zen, so I was keen to see what this was all about. Castlestorm: The Definitive Edition is a, umm.. amalgamation of tower defence and Angry Birds style gameplay, with a dash of side-on-brawler, mixed up with castle construction and management, all boiled into a lighthearted campaign romp, with some extra game modes on the side. The definitive part means on PS4 & Xbox One, you get the two campaign DLC packs incorporated, spruced up 1080p, 60 fps visuals, improved textures and character models, as well as voice support for Kinect and the Playstation camera. 

It's like this and like that and like this and uh

I described earlier the mash-up of genres that Castlestorm is. At the core it plays like the flash game Crush the Castle, which incidentally, was the probable inspiration for Angry Birds. The Art style is a Blizzard-esque derivative of cartoonish fantasy archetypes. The writing is light and upbeat. Calling it laugh out loud funny might be a stretch, but it won’t annoy you, and there actually is an engaging story in there. You have a Ballista that you can aim at the advancing troops. It can carry a variety of ammunition, from a javelin to an exploding apple, to a farting sheep. There are many other options. As well as this primary weapon, you can spawn your own troops, Archers, Infantry, Knights, Golems and others. These march towards the enemy and engage them. But wait, there’s more, you can also cast spells in combat. A protective shield or some heavenly swords that descend on the enemy are just a couple of examples. Finally you can teleport in your Hero character and directly control them in the melee, destroying foes left, right and centre with sword and bow. Your castle contains rooms that give bonuses and upgrades such as army size, spawn cooldown or money earned. You defend your castle, whilst trying to destroy the opponents with all these tools at your disposal. This means juggling between them, firing, spawning, casting and fighting. It can be overwhelming and the game gives you scant introduction to each. The beginning of the campaign gives you a taste of what is to come, with a request to destroy an enemy castle, and gives you a decent complement of the aforementioned weapons to do so, but does nothing to explain what any of them do. This is not a game that holds your hand much.

I have no idea what I’m doing

Now then, I’m not some fresh faced casual who finds it difficult to hold a controller the right way up and whose favourite game is ‘that one with the flappy bird that you can play on your phone’. However, the very first mission took me 25 minutes to complete. Mainly because I had no idea what I was doing. How was I to know that apples explode, or that soldiers will walk up to the enemy gate and if no one is there, turn around walk straight back? There was no context, and little instruction. Just get on with it. Once you get past that initially daunting challenge the game settles down, removing all those options from you, and introducing each concept slowly, as it should do, but the first experience is not a pleasant one. It could be a deal-breaker for those with a short attention span. In addition to this, I had a real problem with one of the core mechanics in the game, aiming the Ballista. This is done with the left thumbstick but it feels overly sensitive. You cannot trust it to push in a direction, release, and have it stay there. So, instead I tended to push and hold in the direction I wanted to aim, but that pressure caused my aim to waver a little every now and then. This caused shots to miss, which in the heat of battle can at best be irritating, and at worst, catastrophic. You can fine-tune your aim with the d-pad but this was too slow to be used effectively. As a core part of the gameplay, it really felt that this needed to be trustworthy and easy to use, but it just came across a bit loose. They could have used one of the ignored controller triggers to lock a direction once set. That might have helped. Also the aiming curve is a thin white line, which is just the same as the trails that actual shots leave in the sky, so identifying this in a crowded battle can compound the problem. I can’t confirm but I get the feeling that aiming on a touchscreen or using a mouse might be way easier. A big bold aiming reticule would have helped too.

However it’s not all bad, switching between Ballista, and army spawning or spell casting is just a button away, and soon you will be moving between these items, balancing cooldown timers like a champ. Everything else works well, if lacking in explanation at times. The game really leaves it up to you to figure out why upgrades are good, or which weapon is effective against which target. You get the odd loading tip that will nudge you, and there are brief descriptions in the menus, but this game feels like it would benefit from a manual for you to pore over in your downtime. Except you don’t get manuals any more, and you certainly don’t get them for downloadable games. It’s probably best to take this lack of information as a challenge, after all, once you dig into it, you’ll find that nothing is that complicated, and if you don’t know what something does, experimentation should soon make it clear. Some details in the ‘Help & Options’ around castle building and unit types would have been beneficial though.

Castlestorm: The Definitive Edition is a game that offers a challenge, one that refuses to babysit you. It is a game of surprising depth and complexity. With the two extra campaigns, the multiplayer option (which incidentally is brilliant fun), the hero and skirmish modes, and the tantalising opportunity to go back to earlier levels to get a big score, it’s a long lasting experience. At times it can feel disjointed, and it is difficult to get a playing rhythm as objectives and game play styles change from level to level. However, when you consider how little this game costs ($9.99/€9,99/£7.99), it is remarkably good value. If you are looking for something different, something that harks back to a time when games were not so easily pigeonholed, before the days of ‘design by committee’ and focus groups, then Castlestorm: The Definitive Edition is well worth a look.

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