Sunday, July 28, 2013

Review - CastleStorm

I am eight hours into a video game called CastleStorm -- a brand new castle-demolition physics game that first came out on XBOX Live, but I waited to play it when it came out for PC. And now it's out on Steam!

In this series, you never have to wait for my opinion: in this case, CastleStorm is a fun and humorous game that uses multiple gameplay mechanics to mix up what could easily have been a very monotonous game into something special.

But is it right for you? Well let's find out.

What is it?

To begin, CastleStorm is a physics game where you play as a medieval knight whose job is to rescue his kingdom from a band of Norse Vikings who are looking to abscond with your King's sacred crystal. The plot is full of twists, turns, comedy, and wit in between heaping helpings of castle-smashing action.

The game was developed by Zen Studios -- the house responsible for the Pinball FX series which you may have seen on my channel. They also developed Planet Minigolf for the PS3 and Ghostbusters: The Video Game for the DS.

Knowing that their primary focus has been on their pinball franchises, I give them a little bit of leeway, but at the same time I needed this game to show me something unique because it's competing against any number of free-to-play browser-based offerings from the same genre.

This game delivered on those expectations. The game adds several unique elements that make it stand out from it's rivals. You can teleport yourself onto the field of battle and play the game (albeit temporarily) as a 2D side-scrolling hack and slash. You can also send forth foot soldiers, archers, and griffins to distract the enemy while you turn his castle into gravel using huge boulders and exploding sheep.

In an emergency, you can use divine powers to clear the battlefield.

In my playthrough, I tried each of the game's four modes:

  • campaign (the standard linear plot that does have some side quests)
  • skirmish (pick an unlocked map and play without plot)
  • survival (defend against endless waves as long as you can)
  • hero survival (your hero character in an arena fighting endless waves of bad guys in hand-to-hand style)

The game takes you through several environments, each with it's own visual appeal and -- more importantly -- it's own tricky way of forcing you to alter your strategy. Whether it be floating rocks that interfere with your projectiles or huge cliffs that force you to cross your fingers and lob up Hail Marys, monotony never rears it's ugly head. The game is always fresh.

Finally, the success in this game comes in different forms. Destroying the enemy castle is not always the best or fastest option. Sometimes just taking the enemy's flag is the best play. This freedom of gameplay lends itself to vast replayability -- another reason this game is worth the investment.


  • The comedy in this game is fantastic -- by far my favorite part of the game. There are a lot of running gags, some ribald bathroom humor -- in one case involving an actual bathroom -- and some whimsical quips from your arch rival. It's cute and well-scripted and for this reason alone I would consider recommending this game. Some parents may be concerned that the off-color jokes border on the risque, but I personally would have no problem letting my kids play this game and I would encourage them to play the game first and then decide.
  • The characters are well written. You end up rooting for and against all the right people and each has their own style and identity.
  • The mix of side-scrolling action, ballistic physics, and resource management give you multiple ways to play and multiple ways to win.
  • You can stick to the main plot exclusively if you want to play through as quickly as possible -- or -- you can do some mildly-challenging side missions if you want to pick up some extra gold.
  • Check out the background during lulls in the battle; you'll be amazed at some of the funny stuff that's happening back there.
  • If you hit an enemy with a spiky cannonball and it doesn't kill him outright, it remains stuck in him as he wonders around. Same is true of arrows.
  • Some of the capture the flag missions are crazy intense, requiring a lot of highly-accurate shots.
  • You can upgrade your projectiles and soliders above level 6, but it comes at great sacrifice as the gold required to make that happen increases dramatically. This forces you to use multiple tools to win the day.
  • The loading screens are brief and contain some very helpful hints.
  • There's friendly fire, meaning you need to focus on where you're aiming and sometimes you have to make an amazing shot just above your guy's head to save his life.
  • While you are bombing his castle, your enemy is returning the favor. While crossing paths in mid-air, it is possible for projectiles to crash into each other. Also, when he sends out eagles to attack your guys, you can shoot them out of the sky if you're good enough.
  • When you play the "Skirmish" game mode, you'll find the difficulty level adapts to your level so you're not bored wasting time with waves of level-one enemies.
  • You can re-keybind. That's always a pro whenever I see it in a game.
  • There are boss battles -- which you would think wouldn't work in a physics game, but they totally do.
  • In "Campaign" mode, the castle will be automatically maintained for you if you decide not to noddle around with the castle editor.
  • The cutscenes are funny, but if the humor doesn't work for you or you've seen it before, they are all skippable.
  • There's a surprise twist in the middle of "Campaign" mode that I won't spoil, but I enjoyed it.
  • The animations on the castle damage -- especially the damage done to the castle gates -- are very realistic. Objects crumble and crack to indicate how close they are to demolition and gates "start to give way" as you pound them.
  • This game encourages you to challenge yourself but it never really forces it upon you. I like that a lot!
  • Some equipment upgrades are better than others, so read everything. If you choose poorly, future levels can become quite difficult. In addition, the level design and the circumstances of the battles can require you to either change your strategy or keep the same strategy and just slug it out. It's your choice, but you're rewarded for flexibility.
  • Throwing garbage at rabid turkeys never gets old. I could do just that for like an hour.


  • My biggest complaint with this game is the castle editor. You have the chance to customize the castle you enter battle with -- hiding important rooms behind thick walls and gates. The problem is, the interface is excruciating and the feedback you get requires you to remember what all the rooms do. I avoided the editor whenever I could. However, you can't avoid the editor entirely -- as which soldiers are available during battle is tied directly to which barracks you have built into your castle. So to get your favorite soldiers onto the field, you'll have to fight with the editor.
  • The sound of a yelping dog is grating -- especially for people who own dogs. Whenever you shoot a wolf -- which I object to because wolves have been irresponsibly demonized by profiteers whose fear-mongering have endangered countless ecosystems -- it makes a VERY realistic dying dog noise that is unpleasant.
  • On the last patch, my autosave disappeared -- a loss of about three hours worth of gameplay time. Luckily I love the game, so I didn't mind starting over and it was a pre-launch build so it may have been a one-time thing, but I figured I'd mention it.
  • I don't like the flying Griffins. They are overpowered and as far as I can tell are not effected by friendly fire.
  • The voice acting for the Freia character is way overacted. It breaks the immersion every time you get a headshot -- which for me was quite often. However, Zen was cleaver in not adding voice overs for the dialog. You can read at your own pace and give them the voices you think they should have. They do make grunts and stuff, but they are mostly well-timed to add to the humor.
  • You can control the zoom on the battlefield using the keyboard, but you can never get a full view of everything. It would be nice if you could pull back all the way. This is especially true when bombarding the castle with lob shots because you can't position your mouse and see the enemy castle at the same time with a lob shot.
  • As weird as it sounds, I was disappointed by the castle physics. A lot of times, debris simply disappears and many times you'll destroy something and it will fall in unrealistic ways. But, rare are the times you can ignore the battlefield long enough to watch the crumbling, so it's not something you would notice unless you're looking for it.
  • The game contains a female viking in a furry bikini who lives in a sub-zero arctic wonderland. Seriously, people. Can't we just have a viking that happens to be a girl, not a girl who happens to be a viking?
  • In the multiplayer game, you can choose to be either Kingdom or Norse. There is no random. This means that if everyone picks Kingdom (a.k.a. the good guys), then we all just sit there waiting for someone else to pick Norse. It and what side your castle is on should both be randomized.
  • Just like most games, there are small bugs they'll have to patch out. For instance, the "How to Play" area is missing a next button, so you can't scroll through all the help screens properly. It's all just little stuff, though. The game itself is solid.

Final Thoughts

With games like this, it's very easy to say, "You know, I can get a game like this for free on any one of a hundred flash sites. Why should I pay for one?" So you need the developers to step to the plate and show you something special.

This game cracks a home run that lands in the parking lot behind the stadium. I didn't think I could be so enthralled by a casual physics game, but that's because this game stopped being casual when it took the most basic of physics-based genres and turned it on it's head, providing a fabulous and entertaining title full of twists and turns.

I'm going to be playing this one for a while, but is it right for you? Well, only you can decide that. Hopefully this video will help. If you have any questions I didn't answer, leave them in the comments below and I'll answer them if I can.

Also, if you found this review helpful, please consider checking out my advertisers if they have something you'd like to see. Thanks for reading this review and I'll see you next time. :)

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