Zen Studios must be contractually obliged to port CastleStorm to every viable platform, because it seems to get around like a king on a crusade. It’s a weird one because the game has never, in this author’s opinion, been all that exciting – but people must enjoy it otherwise it wouldn’t keep popping up like a bad smell. Thankfully, this PlayStation VR edition is perhaps the best version of the release, purely because it’s so much easier to keep track of everything that’s going on when you can observe the playing field by moving your head.
For those who don’t know, CastleStorm VR can be best described as a mixture of tower defence, real-time strategy, and Angry Birds. Playing out from a 2.5D perspective, you must protect your castle from enemy troops using a giant ballista attached to your abode’s archway. You can also use your firepower to dismantle your opponent’s stronghold, all while recruiting minions to fight your battles in the choke sections of the stage.
The campaign is split into a series of skirmishes and survival missions, and it throws in the odd “novelty” objective to keep the variety high. Of course this being a PlayStation 3 and Vita title originally, none of the cutscenes have been rendered in the stereoscopic 3D required for PlayStation VR, so during certain sequences it plops you in a medieval movie theatre where you can watch the video clips in a kind of fancy Cinematic Mode.
The actual gameplay itself takes full advantage of virtual reality, however, and it actually helps improve the experience. Where you were always limited by screen estate in the other versions of CastleStorm, with PlayStation VR you’re able to simply look from left-to-right in order to get a full view of the battlefield. This sounds like a small thing, but it actually significantly improves the game in our opinion, as you’re able to get a much better feel for how the battle’s progressing.
The only drawback is that the user interface has to be integrated into the world itself, and while this is handled fine in most of the maps, there are a few where your position is pulled back and – when paired with PlayStation VR’s low-resolution screen – it can be hard to see crucial information on the screen. Other than this, though, we’d argue that the game’s best played in virtual reality – the depth of each scene is really enhanced in the headset.
More to the point, the game definitely does have that “one more go” factor once you get into it. As you play you earn money, which can be spent on upgrading every element of your attack arsenal, from the strength of your soldiers to the power of your ballista. The really cool thing is that you’re actually able to build your own castle with the kind of perks and attack options that you want, and the placement of each room and turret plays a part in how you’ll defend it.
The problem is that castle creating can be time consuming, and honestly it’s often easier to just go with one of the presets available in the game. And this is an overall issue with CastleStorm really: it just tries to do way too much. During battle you’ll need to balance your troops, ballista, defence, magic powers, and more – you can even summon a hero for a more “boots on the ground”-style experience. It’s far too complicated, and it can become overwhelming.
But the loop is well crafted, with the campaign encouraging you to return to earlier missions once you’ve levelled up enough to improve your score. And despite the aforementioned cut-scenes, the virtual reality is well integrated: one mission tasks you with taking down boars, and you’ll assume position from a treehouse where sketches of pigs have been etched into the wood. It’s cartoony, but it looks very clean and colourful in PlayStation VR.
Of course there are other modes which feed back into the in-game currency loop, including two survival options that see you either fending off waves with your full castle intact – or getting your hands dirty on the ground as one of the aforementioned heroes. Then there’s multiplayer which spans co-operative and competitive modes, though we weren’t able to find anyone on the servers to test this feature in the game’s pre-release state.
CastleStorm crops up everywhere, so chances are you’ve already played this game before. To be fair, the PlayStation VR version improves on what’s come before, by leveraging the technology to give you a better view of the battlefield before you. The game’s still a little overcomplicated for our tastes, but those who like multitasking may enjoy that aspect. And if you do, then the addictive reward loop and customisable castles will probably keep you hooked longer than you anticipate.