If Vikings are attacking your kingdom, what else can you do but strap on a sheep to a catapult and send it flying their way? Part Angry Birds, part real-time strategy game, CastleStorm lets you take control of a ballista and an army of soldiers to destroy your enemy’s castle while you protect yours from crumbling down. Its controls may take some getting used to, but play enough of it and you’ll understand why this hybridized experience is definitely worth getting into.
At its core, CastleStorm plays like tower-defense/offense. Matches can be won by destroying your enemy’s castle or by breaking down his gates and having your troops steal his flag. You’ll follow the adventure of Sir Gareth, a snarky knight tasked with retrieving his kingdom’s sacred jewel from the hands of Vikings that want to use it to rule the land. The text-based dialogues will surely make you chuckle, but hearing the same background music and sound-effects gets repetitive after a while. You'll get to know CastleStorm’s cast of cartoony characters, colorful visuals, and comedic undertones in the campaign mode, which also does a great job of teaching you to how to play.
Campaign missions provide you with plenty of twists to the basic objective of castle destruction, offering different restrictions to overcome or secondary tasks to complete. One mission requires you to stop a horde of Vikings from entering your gates, for instance, while another humorously sees your soldiers on strike, forcing you to rely solely on your ballista skills. While some levels tend to drag on more than they should, most offer enough variety to keep you entertained. Completing the campaign rewards you with new weapons and gold to buy upgrades for your soldiers, and the various challenges are sure to keep high-score seekers coming back for more.
During matches, your ballista is your main form of attack, capable of firing arrows, boulders, and explosives that offer devastating firepower--if you aim your shots right, that is. Figuring out the right angle for your shots takes a good amount of practice, and if you decide to zoom in for a more precise shot, you risk missing out on what the enemy is doing elsewhere on the battlefield. To make things even more difficult, the game’s Hard mode omits a line of trajectory altogether, making even the simplest missions a test of your marksmanship. Matches will test your reflexes and keep you on alert, though they can get overwhelming at first when you’re getting used to the game’s physics-based controls and real-time strategy elements.
With arrows flying everywhere and troops marching from both sides, offline and online matches can get hectic, and will put your multitasking and strategizing skills to work. You have a variety of projectiles, spells, and soldier classes to choose from, but everything has its own cooldown, so deploying an army of buff paladins means you won’t be able to summon some healers for a while. Friendly-fire is always on, so going trigger-happy won’t always do you any favors. Additionally, you can also have Sir Gareth teleport himself onto the battlefield, letting your control him and hack-and-slash your way through Vikings for a short amount of time. This provides a nice break from the more strategic feel of overseeing the battlefield and puts you right in the middle of the action.
You can also tinker with the castle editor and customize the rooms of your fortress, which adds the practical bonus of passive boosts to your army during battle. Some rooms give you more gold or make certain soldiers stronger, for instance; deciding on what castle you’ll make lets you tweak things to mesh with your preferred playing style. Other chambers control the spawning of soldiers, so if these rooms get demolished, you can say goodbye to using that unit for the remainder of battle. You can’t do anything to stop your opponent’s ballista from pummeling you with boulders, but you can design your castle to ensure crucial rooms are well-protected. Editing a castle becomes a strategy game in itself.
In addition to campaign and versus modes, CastleStorm also offers survival modes that can be played alone or with a friend. These modes require you to survive waves of incoming enemies that get stronger over time, proving to be more even more hectic than the game’s main modes. Playing with a friend adds to the fun, as you can control either the ballista or Sir Gareth, making teamwork a necessity. Survival mode only offers a few maps to choose from, so you don’t have many options for co-op play unless you’re both into chasing leaderboard rankings.
CastleStorm offers plenty of tactical elements to please fans of the tower-defense genre, yet it also provides plenty of twitch-reflex action to keep players on their toes. Its ballista controls takes some getting used to, but once you’ve mastered the art of aiming, you’ll get a kick from each and every headshot you make. Whether you’re a fan of the genre, Angry Birds, or vikings in general, CastleStorm is worth playing, and will surely put a smile on your face.