I hope you like "arrow to the knee" jokes
Developed by Zen Studios, who you might know as the developer of various pinball games, CastleStorm is a cartoony tower defense game with action and brawler elements. The game has both single player and multiplayer modes. The single player contains four modes of play: Campaign, Skirmish, Survival, and Hero Survival. Campaign mode has a familiar but light and funny story about a stolen treasure, a gallant knight, and the friends he meets along the way. Skirmish mode is a basic quick match against the computer. Survival and Hero Survival see you attempting to hold back wave after wave of enemies, the former from the tower defense perspective, and the latter from the brawler perspective. The two Survival modes are also available online for co-op play with a friend. The game packs a wealth of content, but is it any good?
The gameplay of CastleStorm primarily involves using weapons, spells, and troops to halt the advance of oncoming foes and destroy the enemy castle. In most scenarios, you have two defeat conditions: the enemy captures your flag and brings it to their castle, or the enemy destroys your castle. In addition to taking the enemy’s flag or making their castle go boom, the player’s victory conditions can have a little more variety: hold on for a set amount of time, escort special troops back to base, or eliminate a powerful boss creature. To accomplish these goals, you begin with a standard ballista as your castle’s weapon, a basic swordsman as your only soldier, and the ability to summon the hero Sir Gareth as your only spell. Upon bringing Sir Gareth to the battlefield, you take direct control over him for melee and ranged combat, and this is the brawler aspect of the game that I mentioned earlier, which is a minor but fun addition. Over the course of an entire campaign, the gameplay does, however, become somewhat repetitive, and the more unique scenario objectives come up a little too infrequently.
Each campaign contains between 26 and 38 scenarios, broken into optional side missions and story missions that must be completed to advance through the campaign. Playing through the side missions can be vital as the successful completion of every mission brings gold that can be spent to improve your equipment, spells, and troops. As you progress through the story missions, you unlock different ammo for your ballista, various troops—including trolls, dragons, and griffins—and unique spells to add to your repertoire. You can only equip a set number of abilities, so there is a strategy to having the right tools, spells, and personnel for each mission. All missions, including side missions, have a secondary objective, such as not using your ballista, that can be met to increase your gold haul, and each mission also has a ranking out of five that requires being accurate, playing on hard difficulty, and completing the secondary objective for a perfect score. Achieving a five-star rank on some of the later stages can be quite tricky, but the game helpfully allows for changing the difficulty level before each mission to suit individual players. The customization options and player choice are a definite high point of the game.
Most missions take only a few minutes, but you can instantly replay them to improve your stats, chase a better rank, or collect more gold. CastleStorm is another game great for playing in small bursts, and because of the somewhat repetitive nature of the gameplay, I would highly recommend players not try to complete entire campaigns in a single gaming session. I really appreciated completing a couple missions, leveling up my troops, and then setting the game down for a few hours before diving back in.
Because of the different tools at your disposal and freedom to upgrade your castle as you see fit, the game invites players to experiment and is friendlier to those who may not be well-versed in the tower-defense genre. Although many of us have played games like Plants vs. Zombies, those who haven’t should find CastleStorm’s tutorials and menus helpful and easy to navigate. Players with good aim can make skillful use of the ballista and the variety of projectiles at their disposal to win scenarios by knocking down the enemy’s castle, while players who are better at managing stock and supply can pump out troops to push back the enemy and steal their flag. Certain missions force you to adapt and use strategies you may not have tried, and these help the gameplay stay somewhat fresh. At the end of the day, however, most of your time will be spent repelling hordes of the same enemies over and over and launching rocks and other weapons at your opponent’s castle while defending your own. In short, the gameplay loop is fairly basic.
CastleStorm is a light-hearted and charming take on a genre made popular on PC, tablets, and mobile, and this particular effort from Zen Studios finds a worthwhile home on Switch. The colorful, cartoon aesthetic mixes well with the tried-but-true story of an adventurer charged by his king to reclaim a stolen relic. There is a sizable amount of content on offer here, and the gameplay can get pretty addicting in its simplicity. Devising strategies to tackle unfamiliar objectives is a definite strength of the game, but the missions could stand to be a little more intricate. Too many stages rely on the two basic victory conditions, and I would have liked to see more boss stages or more complicated objectives. Regardless, CastleStorm is engaging not just for those who enjoy tower-defense games; there is enough fun, customization, and challenge for all Switch owners. Your princess might not be in this castle, but it’s worth taking a look around anyway.