What happens when you combine tower defense…with action-RPG…ground combat…and flying sheep? Zen Studios’ latest creation, that’s what.

If you’ve ever played Zen Pinball, it’s little surprise that Zen Studios’ newest iteration is chock full of attention to detail. Castlestorm takes a welcome twist on the tower defense genre, inserting a need for troop management, spell casting and healing mastery, also to take matters into your own hands when the feistiest of baddies emerge.

Castlestorm is certainly not for the feint of heart. There's simply so much going on within a battle, strategic overload will inevitably kick in. Thankfully, the game’s campaign mode does a decent job easing one into its multiple nuances and battle mechanics, and with it hands on lessons in how to prepare for and win subsequent skirmishes.

At its core, Castlestorm is knights versus Vikings, defend your castle from invading hordes of soldiers, animals, and trolls. The story is minimal…not that it truly needs one. Both sides seek control of two blessed gems, bling capable of inducing either indefinite peace or power (if combined). The Vikings are opting for the latter, those naughty sorts.

Tower defense occurs via a ballista, with ammunition ranging from simple javelins to endlessly hungry, airborne sheep. Ammunition selection will depend on ultimate purpose, each suited for a different enemy type or tower component. For instance, eagles can pick off larger enemies, exploding shrapnel (akin to Angry Birds bombs) weaken opponent castle walls. As each weapon has a unique recovery period, it’s a strategic march against time to either pick off incoming invaders or go for battle end via enemy castle rubble.

Castlestorm does a very clever job of making ammunition selection a very noggin-centric process, as the allure of thinning out soldiers – with quickly replenishing javelins – comes at a literal price of extending the battle to decreased gold. Still, multiple headshots and/or kills can quickly compensate. Moreover, spending said gold on upgrades will add to this strategic element, as upgraded javelins are more conducive to a thinning the herd approach versus buying more powerful shrapnel best suited for structural damage. Or vice-versa.

The second of Castlestorm’s battle nuances are its troop selection, varied ground forces of heavy and light soldiers, healers, mounted riders, among others. Selecting troops by enemy wave is essential to avoid getting obliterated, as archers are best for picking off larger trolls at a distance versus swordsman apt to be immediately mauled by attempting close quarters combat. Like ballistas, ground forces can also be upgraded, leading to preferred soldier types and strategies. Akin to ballista ammo, more powerful soldiers types means higher costs and regeneration time.

Castlestorm’s third combat element are its spells, ones with long wait periods but very potent effects. As the game highlights during its tutorial, a spell-centric strategy (if properly upgraded) is a battle changers. Perhaps the highest risk, highest reward approach, a spell-centric gameplan can literally wipe out waves of enemies in seconds.

Finally, our hero can take matters into his own hands via teleporting to and from the battlefield for short periods of time. Armed with a sword, shield, and bow and arrow, teleporting becomes an invaluable way to obliterate large numbers of medium strength enemies, also wear down the biggest and baddest for ballistas to do their thing. Too much reckless abandon, however, and our soldier’s battle time comes to an immediate end until next (very long) regeneration period. Akin to the other three battle elements, our hero can also be selectively upgraded, serving as a preferred primary method of enemy engagement.

As you might have gathered, the four combat types combine into a chess-like strategy of selectively upgrading elements then staggering attacks against specific mission and enemy types. This is further nuanced by the ability to build and edit castles, strategically placing troop and skill enablers in rooms where opposing enemy invasion and projectiles can’t take them out. For the SimCity fans among us, castles can also be customized via different architectural elements.

Thus, there’s literally hundreds of ways to play a Castlestorm level, let alone the option for multiplayer. It truly is an inventive twist on an otherwise stale genre, where new twists are few and far between.

Unfortunately, however, Castlestorm doesn’t always execute as intended. On both the PS3 and Vita versions, aiming the ballista is a lesson in constant frustration, as the default analog stick only aims extremely up or down, the fine-tuning D-pad rotates at a snail’s pace. This requires irritating camera scrolls – in the heat of battle - back and forth from the ballista to re-center the damn thing…then wait for the D-pad to s-l-o-w-l-y adjust. All the while the enemy is kicking your ass. I’m hoping Zen Studios does an easy patch to correct analog stick sensitivity.

Also – and while Castlestorm’s four prong battle system works fairly well, troop selection degrades into a button mashing versus strategic experience. There’s simply too much going on at once to decipher ideal next unit selection, likewise where all your posse’ is before this selection. This isn’t a game killer by any means, but it stands out as the one battle element that doesn’t operate as it should.

Still – and assuming Zen corrects the ballista aiming issue – Castlestorm is a terrific take on the tower defense genre. It sports novel strategy elements, solid graphics and sound, also a welcome comedic twist to keep things moving along. The game plays near-mirror on both the PS3 and Vita, although lacks true touch screen controls on the latter also no cross save abilities. [7.9]

  • Refreshing diversity in the tower defense genre
  • Really makes you think!
  • Solid all-around experience
  • Poor aiming mechanics
  • No cross-save feature
  • Occasionally too frantic for its own good
Quote: "Castlestorm takes a welcome twist on the tower defense genre."
Reviewed by Paul Stuart | 11.17.13 | Platform Reviewed: Playstation 3 & PS Vita

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Zen Studios

Zen Studios

Action Strategy

US Release
November '13


XLA, PSN, Vita

$9.99 US
1-2 Players
Co-Op MP
5.1 Surround
D/L Content