At first glance, Castlestorm seems like an average mobile-friendly tower defense game, particularly because of its aesthetic. It even kind of plays like a mobile game at times. Not that mobile games are inherently bad, but there is a ton of shovelware on the platform, and comparing Castlestorm to those games would be an injustice to the developer, Zen Studios. Despite its look, this has deep mechanics and is a competent addition to the Nintendo Switch eShop library.
With its original release back in 2013, the Switch port of Castlestorm is the most updated version and can be taken on the go – a nifty and welcomed inclusion. Castlestorm is, at its core, a tower defense game, with elements of real-time strategy mixed in. What’s neat is the utter amount of abilities and moves to choose from and the upgrades that go along with it. You start out with nothing and have to earn currency to buy more abilities. This feature incentives you to go for objectives and experiment with different playstyles to earn more cash.
There is a lengthy single-player campaign mode that features different levels and scenarios to overcome. Most of the levels feel the same, unfortunately, but there are a few different styles of levels that stand out. The recurring objective tasks you with destroying the enemy’s castle. This is something you will see a lot and it may start to get old after a few times. To spice things up, you may want to experiment with different weapons and abilities that will encourage different playstyles.
The main mechanic in Castlestorm is using a ballista to shoot arrows across to the enemy’s base or its enemies. The issue is that the controls for the ballista aren’t as precise as one would hope. Since enemies are constantly moving to your base, you have to lead your shots with the ballista but it’s so finicky and awkward to control that most of my time is spent just spamming the shoot button while trying to get lucky and hit the targets. It’s not the worst thing I’ve ever experienced, but it is a noticeable flaw that makes playing Castlestorm a drag at times.
Once you get past the awkward aiming controls, Castlestorm has a lot of nuance that keeps things fresh. Different arrow types can be upgraded and will add an element of strategy, should you choose to mix things up. Castlestorm is at its best when it’s using humor and charm in effective ways. Sure, there are traditional weapons you’d expect to see, but it’s when you’re introduced to things like the Battering Sheep and the Donkey Rider troop that things start to get interesting.
Besides that, the witty writing during the cutscenes will probably make you smile. The story isn’t Oscar-worthy and it doesn’t even come close, but it’s entertaining to see the characters interact with one another, even if most of it is forgettable.
The main reason to play Castlestorm is due to its interesting and strategic gameplay. Most of the missions involve defending your castle from enemy soldiers and it becomes a game about micromanaging all the different skills it has to offer. There were times when I was balancing shooting the wonky ballista at enemies, spawning soldiers, using a spell to buff my troops, and trying to get headshots, all while keeping track of the various timers on-screen. It’s rewarding to emerge victorious over the enemy, because it means you have become proficient with multitasking. When you finally get to a mission that doesn’t involve destroying the enemy castle, you may enjoy things more. Objectives like capturing the enemy flag, or destroying all the turkeys do tend to spice things up, even if they don’t fundamentally change the game. I only wish there was more variety in the way the missions were designed. I’m not a designer, so I don’t have any input with this, but as someone who enjoys diversity in gameplay styles, this comes across as a clear miss.
Still, the different skills and weapons should be enough to keep you occupied for a while. Levelling up your troops and attacks is satisfying enough, and I’m glad there is some semblance of depth in place.
Interestingly, there is a castle editor that allows for customization of your castle. This is a neat feature, but it’s ruined by the clunky menu navigation of the editor. When you do get things going, it’s neat to be in control of what your castle looks like, as well as what features it may have. If only the menu navigation could be simplified for this.
There are different modes aside from the main campaign, but they all mostly feel the same. Again, the gameplay stays fundamentally the same, regardless of the game type, so there isn’t much incentive to explore past the main mode. But if you can’t get enough Castlestorm, there is a survival mode that sees you battling wave after wave of enemy troops, as well as a cooperative mode.
The co-op mode is fun and expands upon the foundation of the gameplay. One play controls the ballista, while another controls a troop that can attack in real-time. This does mix things up a bit, but the real-time combat feels like an afterthought. It’s clear Castlestorm wasn’t designed with real-time combat in mind, so the fact that it’s in here and done in a half-baked way is disheartening. I still had fun with it and enjoyed strategizing with my co-op partner. There is also an online mode that allows for competitive battle, but due to receiving the game early, I didn’t have much luck finding a match.
Castlestorm is a fun, quirky little tower defense game that doesn’t 100% nail any particular element, but rather combines lots of general ideas to form a decent package. The ballista controls are clunky, the castle customization is awkward, and there isn’t a ton of variety in the feeling of the campaign missions. Despite that, Castlestorm is still fun and has enough depth to warrant your time with it. It doesn’t need to be perfect and it does get lots right, like with its weapon variety and wit. Give Castlestorm a chance if you’re in the mood for some tower-defense real-time strategy fun!
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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