Castlestorm: Definitive Edition

Castlestorm is a delightful game that blends the wanton destruction of Angry Birds with the unit management of tower defense games. Released previously on mobile devices and last-gen consoles, this Definitive Edition collects Castlestorm’s numerous expansions and add-ons into a single digital download. In this lighthearted medieval adventure, players take control of Sir Gareth, a Herculean knight commanded by the king to defend the realm against the Viking horde.

The great thing about Castlestorm’s campaign mode is that it actively finds ways to keep itself interesting. Multiple game types, random combat conditions, and bonus objectives work together to stave off tedium. The campaign missions are designed after three game variations. Versus is the most Angry Birds of the set, as players must destroy the other team’s castle. Survival involves battling waves of enemies before they can break down the castle door and steal your flag. Hero Survival is the same as Survival but with your hero unit taking center stage. These modes are shaken up by the presence of battle conditions that effect battle efficiency. For example, you may find your chief weapon, a wooden ballista, disabled and must rely on ground forces to win the round. Toss in a few bonus victory conditions and you’ll find Castlestorm’s campaign to be surprisingly robust.

Before each battle, you’ll want to take the time to select which units, ballista ammo and magical spells to take into the field. New offensive capabilities are unlocked by progressing through the game, so while the pickings are initially slim, by the end of the story there will be more weaponry than you’ll know what to do with. What you can take into battle is largely determined by the size of your castle. On average, you’ll have five of each type at your disposal, which is more than enough for any conflict.

Whether the level objective is to destroy the enemy’s castle or fend off a wave of wild wolves, combat requires a deft hand with firing off the ballista and managing troops. The ballista is useful for raining death from above, especially your soldiers are overwhelmed by the enemy. A thin, white guideline turns the weapon into a precision tool, allowing to launch surgical strikes against archers, grunts, and heavy beasts. The machine is effective at taking down castles because of its collection of conventional and unconventional weaponry. Large arrows are the ballista’s bread and butter, but you’ll also have access to special boulders that, at the press of a button, will break up and strike multiple targets. Other forms of destruction include a tri-shot arrow, a giant apple that explodes on contact, a magical elixir that turns enemies into allies, and rocket powered sheep (battering rams. Get it? *cough*). Score successive multi-kills and headshots and you’ll earn an all too brief rapid fire mode that does a great job with clearing out enemies and busting through castles. For the majority of the game, however, it impossible to spam devastating attacks in rapid succession because of the weapon’s moderately slow rate of fire and cooldown timers. This is where the ground units come in.

A good commander recognizes that battles are not won by the individual. Your soldiers are the perfect contingency plan if things get too hairy. They are not free, however, as the cost of each unit is measured in Food resources. Thankfully, this isn’t Starcraft. Food accumulates without any direct input which leaves you free to keep your attention on the battlefield. The rate with which food is collected can be increased through perks that offer all sorts of passive abilities. The number of units that can be placed on the field is limited by the size of your castle, or more specifically, the number of rooms your castle has. An in-game editor makes adding rooms to your castle quite easily, giving you more troops to have in play. Once on foot, your army will charge the enemy forces and wail on each other until their target is dead or until they are killed. If your forces are getting routed, you can summon Sir Gareth or other hero characters onto the battlefield for up to twenty seconds or until they are defeated.

Although I was playing the game on Normal difficulty, I found the battles to be pretty manageable. My only gripe is that I wish there was no friendly fire. It doesn't take much for one of your grunts to be killed from a stray shot. More often than not, one hit is enough. I experienced my fair share of “whoops” moments when trying to help clear out a group of high level enemies. There are no strict penalties for accidentally killing your own men, as a steady supply of food amounts to a fresh supply of new units. It’s more of an annoyance than anything else.

When the smoke clears and the last Viking has been destroyed, the rewards for victory - assuming you’ve won the battle - are great. The amount of gold received is dependent on how well you perform in the stage, with more money earned if secondary objectives and bonus conditions are met. Gold is spent on upgrading your arsenal, giving your forces better attack power and shortening the cooldown for ballista weaponry and magical abilities. New weapons and abilities are also unlocked after completing stages.

The gameplay that makes up Castlestorm’s single player mode are replicated in its multiplayer end. The only major difference is that anything earned in single player does not carry over, leaving you to earn everything all over again. Multiplayer can be enjoyed on a local connection or online. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to compete against others because no one was around. I waited five minutes in the lobbies for each game typebut didn’t get a match. In this case, I’m completely fine with that. Between the campaign and offline skirmish modes with AI opponents, there is so much content that I don’t need to play the game online to enjoy it.

Castlestorm is a fun game. It’s also very pretty. Zen Studios knows a thing or two about creating vivid game environments (just look at their many, many pinball tables) and this is no different. Battlegrounds are colorful and feature a number of charming sight gags. I was amused with the Gareth’s character model, as it reminded me of the same, stocky and angular avatars from Warcraft III. The lighthearted visuals go a long way to make the gameplay experience very enjoyable. While the multiplayer is devoid of willing participants and the frequency with which I accidentally kill my own soldiers is annoying, there is nothing to stop Castlestorm from being anything but great, great fun.

Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.