CastleStorm PS Vita review: a cornucopia of gameplay elements
It's hard to describe CastleStorm. I'll start with this: when I look for a game on the PS Vita, I either want one that has some depth but is still a short session title, or I want something that will allow me to play for hours. CastleStorm is a little of both.
Zen Studios CastleStorm is a hybrid of tower defense, RPG, strategy, troop management, hack-n-slash, and throws in comedy. The story is simply a vessel to make you laugh, teach you gameplay, and introduce new troops and weapons to you as you build up a castle. The game is essentially Angry Birds without the star power of those feathered beasts. You defend your castle against troops running at you from a castle across the way. There are other elements that come into play and switch things up, but this is what the game is about. To defeat the attacking troops -- ranging from wolves to huge, armored barbarians with axes -- you control your castles ballista.
The ballista is the primary weapon that you'll be using, but you don't just fire off single shots javelins. Oh no, you have a wide variety of artillery at your disposal, and each of them are upgradeable -- from huge chunks of boulder that destroy castles, to multi-shot javelins, to gassy sheep (yes, that's a weapon). Each are on a cooldown, and it's up to you to decide when to use each. Do you unleash them all at once in hope to end the game more quickly? Or do you save them for when things look bleak?
The ballista and its ammo isn't the only tool you have. Throughout the game, you will acquire and upgrade troops -- knights, archers and more. The amount that you can send out into the battlefield to battle against the waves of enemies coming at your are governed by a resource, so again, strategy is a must. Even more, you can take control of the commander of your troops, wielding his huge sword and sturdy bow when you need to get down and dirty. There's a lot going on, so multi-tasking is a must.
Also during progression, you'll unlock new castle types that add a level of customization to your overall strategy by affecting things like the amount of gold you earn or the amount of troops you can have, as well as affecting what spells and troops you can have. To change things up a bit, there's side missions that have to doing different things like hunting and killing turkeys with your bow. They're not really that amazing, but it's a nice change of pace from time to time.
The main struggle with CastleStorm is the aiming of the ballista, which is concerning considering it's the primary gameplay element. Simply put, it's very finicky. You aim your attacks with the left analog stick, while you can do minor adjustments with the d-pad, and the also get a flight path prediction, similar to Angry Birds. The problems is that it's just not as intuitive as the easy controls in Angry Birds. With the rate at which the enemy approaches you, precise attacks are hard, and your best bet is to focus your aim in one spot and just wait until the enemies approach there. One little adjustment and you could be firing shots that are way off target. The game is perfectly playable, but I would have liked to see the controls tightened up a bit.
That said,, there's plenty of replay value here, and the game lends itself well to a pick-up-and-play game on-the-go. There's a five-star rating system for each missions, so you can replay them if you're a gamer that just has to have the best scores. If you would prefer to play against a human opponent, as opposed to an AI one, you can work with or against another player via multiplayer. It's chaotic and fun, and it increases the replay value exponentially.
I'm quite impressed with how much I enjoyed CastleStorm, and I find it to be a great game to play in short spurts on the Vita. I would like for the controls to be a bit more precise, but in the end, the positives far outweigh the negatives. Some solid gameplay, lots of strategy, a cartoony art style and some lively humor creates one heck of an enjoyable experience.