By: Mike Chen
New-gen owners may have heard about CastleStorm from other platforms, and now they can experience it with CastleStorm: Definitive Edition. Even if you’re not a fan of tower defense games, it’s worth a look. While tower defense is a big part of the experience, there’s much more to this genre-busting title from Zen Studios.
Core CastleStorm gameplay takes place on a 2D plane similar to Worms or Angry Birds. There’s so much to do that the controller buttons are mostly used to navigate menus in real time. The face buttons select the main type of action (ballista — AKA your firing mechanism — spells, infantry) while the trigger buttons allow you to cycle through the different options for that action (e.g. type of ammo for the ballista).
At first, this can be confusing, and the game is smart in the tutorial levels by forcing you to focus on one or two actions at a time before giving you full reign. By the time you finish the tutorials and put in a good hour or so of game time, most of the menu switches will feel instinctual.
The ballista aim uses the left analog stick. This works in general but can feel loose at times. Using the directional pad allows you to move more incrementally, but this is often too slow to be effective, particularly against fast-moving enemies. If there’s one fault in the game, it would be this.
When you use magic to conjure a hero, the game turns into a 2D beat ’em up a la old-school games like Ghosts n’ Goblins. This changes the pace of the round and gives more immediate gratification with hack n’ slash gameplay. For sword/melee play, things work well. However, the same aiming mechanic used by the ballista is also used by hero characters, which can create awkward switches while brawling. Use at your discretion.
The imaginary medieval world in CastleStorm: Definitive Edition is appropriately cartoony, with heroes, villains and monsters all looking at home in their exaggerated environment. Nothing here — from the characters to the lighting — will break ground, and it’s certainly not harnessing the full power of the PS4. It gets the job done, though, and meets the lighthearted and colorful vibe of the game. Similarly, the sound effects and limited dialogue are appropriate but not memorable.
CastleStorm’s gameplay can best be described as a mash-up between many genre leaders. Take the artillery gameplay of Worms, add in real-time tower-defense action like Dungeon Defenders, throw in the destructive physics of Angry Birds, and stick in a dash of 2D hack ‘n slash and you’ve got a little something for everyone.
What’s brilliant about CastleStorm is that while the emphasis on strategy shifts per round based on situation, it also gives you the freedom to use your preferred method. The result is fast paced and filled with tension while also providing plenty of “that was awesome!” moments thanks to ballista headshots and oh-so-perfect castle destruction.
Your challenge varies per round. Sometimes, it’s simply holding off the hoard of attackers. Then it’s to destroy the opposing fortress. Other times, it’s both simultaneously with other twists thrown in. The evolving campaign mode, combined with your ever-increasing arsenal of new tricks and weapon upgrades, means that you’ll almost always have something fresh to work with as you head to the finish of the (fairly thin) story of kings vs. vikings.
There’s also a castle-building component in between rounds. This allows for customization of both your castle and your castle properties: add in a kitchen to support more hungry infantry troops, bring in new quarters to open up new types of troops, etc.
Outside of the campaign, CastleStorm: Definitive Edition comes with various other single-player challenge modes as well as all existing DLC (From Outcast to Savior and The Warrior Queen) and some new exclusive content like battles and spells. Both online and local (split-screen) multiplayer are supported. Keep in mind that online play doesn’t utilize any campaign bonuses/upgrades you have earned as a means of balancing the competition.
By effortlessly mashing together several genres, CastleStorm: Definitive Edition creates a slick, addictive and fun experience that begs for “Just one more round!” time and again. Zen Studios may be known mostly for their pinball titles, but the success of CastleStorm is a true testament to their capabilities.