Man the Ballistas!

Remember kids, that while sometimes a girl’s tears are just tears, other times they turn into powerful gems that grant unending life and keep the peace between warring kingdoms. It happens, especially in Zen Studios’ CastleStorm, a “free-to-siege” blast of ballistas, heroes, magic and mayhem. And if it took the Peace Goddess crying to set it into motion, well, that’s just the way it goes.

Alas, even the most powerful gems can only keep knights and barbarians from clashing for so long, which is good or else there would be no game to talk about. When CastleStorm begins, you’re given command of Sir Gareth, a high-ranking warrior on the side of the knights whose task is to figure out why the barbarians are beating the drums of war again and who has their designs on the gems.

Castlestorm

Mastering the dozens of challenges the game lays out for you is often a matter of juggling three different types of gameplay at once. You’ve got to be handy with a ballista, tapping to fire different kinds of projectiles at enemy troops and their castle. Troops can be generated to fight independently provided there’s enough food generated to sustain them. And you’ve got magic to supplement the war effort too, not the least of which is a spell that sends Gareth into the fray.

The last of those options zooms in the view so you can control Gareth yourself, resulting in what is almost its own separate action game. The controls aren’t the greatest — the virtual thumbstick can take the blame for that, as it almost always does — but Gareth isn’t the most complicated creature, needing only attack, defend and jump attack buttons. In any case, he can only be summoned for a short period of time, after which you’re back to manning the ballista and commanding the troops again.

Some levels restrict you to only one or two of the three forms of gameplay, and you’re often up against the clock as well. Each challenge has multiple objectives in order to conform to the ubiquitous three-star system of mobile games, and while it’s not usually that hard to grab one star and advance the story, getting all three is often pretty tricky.

Castlestorm

You may need to go back and replay some levels to try for additional stars or take advantage of CastleStorm‘s many side missions, because leveling up and unlocking the game’s other campaigns both depend on your total number of stars. Advancement means unlocking new ballista ammo, troop types and magic spells, all of which can be upgraded using gold earned in combat. New rooms can also be added to your castle to generate food faster or produce more experienced troops, and while the castle layout can be modified to your liking, the tool for doing so isn’t the most intuitive.

The whole thing could make for some pretty bloody business if the game wasn’t so obviously playing it for laughs. A light-hearted touch comes through in both the cartoony art style and the cutscenes that introduce many of the levels. The story could easily be window dressing here, but this one is amusing enough that you’ll want to follow along.

Castlestorm

Really the only thing that will knock you out of your groove is the presence of ads, which can be disabled by purchasing VIP status — also granting you bonus gold every week and twice the XP at all times — or by making any real money of purchase of gems, the game’s premium currency. Gems are otherwise hard to come by unless you participate in some Tapjoy offers, and while it stinks that you can’t earn them via gameplay, the overall monetization system feels fair.

There’s nothing especially revolutionary about the way CastleStorm plays, but once you experience the hectic switching back and forth during a full-scale siege, you’ll understand that its formula works. And you won’t even have to make anyone cry to enjoy it — promise.