Back To The Drawing Board
Castles is a strategy matching game, requiring the player to move large, colored stones with symbols engrained in them into lines of three or more. The game is simple fun once you get the hang of it, and it can be surprisingly addictive, but ultimately the game feels more frustrating than fair.
Castles is a game in the vein of Bejeweled or Tetris. It’s incredibly simple; matching up blocks is literally the entire game. There are a few modes, including a multiplayer option, but there’s really nothing of substantial worth outside of good, old-fashioned Survival.
The Story mode is comprised of 50 randomized levels with five bosses at every 10th level. Essentially, King Harold wants to build the tallest castle in the world, so he sets you to do so. Unfortunately, besides the impossible task of building a tower than extends beyond the mortal confines of physical space, King Harold’s dickhead nemesis King Edmund keeps trying to thwart you, presumably due to his jealousy for King Harold and his wicked cool parties (I hear he’s not invited). I never found out what became of poor, tormented King Edmund, because levels 41-50 are ridiculously frustrating, and I needed to write this review. Since you have to beat all 10 levels at once in order to proceed to the next stage, and since this game is just kind of okay, I suppose I’ll never know…
From a gameplay perspective, Castles has a unique idea going for it. As the tower’s builder, it’s your job to move around the board and reposition the individually falling stones. You can move up, down, left, or right, and the board is broken down into a 6×6 area. The perimeter of the board is your scaffolding, allowing you to circumnavigate the board. You can pull individual stones by holding X and moving the opposite direction and can even push multiple stones at once (up to four).
The stones come in various colors/materials, and each has a building tool emblazoned on it. Matching three to five of either color or image will make the matching stones disappear. Four in a row will net you a hammer, a one-off tool to destroy any stone in front of you, and getting five in a row will reward you with an explosive barrel. As the different stones fall upon you, it can be pretty fun micromanaging, prepping the matching stones in one corner while you spread out the rest, working with what comes. Castles is made with some quality stone, but the problems lie in how they’re put together.
Castles’ gameplay issues arrive when the board starts to get crowded. Navigation, even with the D-Pad, can be an absolute nightmare. As the game intensifies and your mind is racing through potential combinations and pathways, it becomes painfully obvious that your builder is slow. His speed is okay in the beginning when you have a bunch of open space, but as the board becomes more cluttered, precision navigation becomes far more difficult. Add to that, I swear there’s an algorithm in the game that drops stones at exactly the wrong place, right when you need it not to. That one well-placed stone that cuts you off from your only exit route that lands as soon as you go to leave… This sort of frustration happens pretty much every time I play. But hey, it could be that I just have shit luck.
Another drawback to the game is its content offering. Beyond the Story mode, there’s your typical endless Survival mode, a 1-on-1 competitive Versus mode, and the ability to tackle the Story mode cooperatively with one other person. Oddly enough with the multiplayer, it’s local-only; Castles is devoid of any online functionality whatsoever. There’s not even an online leaderboard. In fact, the only leaderboard of any kind is the Top Times for Survival.
Also, and this is just a side note, but there’s no restart button. It may sound like an odd complaint, but in the later Story levels, when it’s easy to get stuck early on, having to sit and wait for your tower’s inevitable demise is just annoying. It feels like a major oversight, and hopefully will be corrected if the game receives future updates.
There is some fun to be found in the Versus mode, as players share the screen while they work on their own towers. Successfully matching stones will add to the other player’s board, and completing challenges (such as matching all green, or all hammers) will help make your rival’s life more difficult. Whoever survives longer, wins. It’s not a bad way to kill some time, but it grows old fairly quickly. Playing 2-Player Story Mode is actually the best way to play the game, as you work in tandem to build the same tower. Having a second set of hands to move blocks around and complete objectives makes the game far easier.
Castles is not a bad game; it’s just more of a glorified mobile game. The art style, music and sound effects, and gameplay are all incredibly simplistic and whimsical. While there are some good ideas at the core of its gameplay, it tends to stumble on its own feet when the intensity cranks up. When space runs out, you’ll find more success in just moving stones around randomly rather than coming up with an actual strategy. Couple that with a limited content offering and no online viability, and it’s hard to justify Whootgames’ Castles, even at its $4.99 price tag.