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Castle Formers Review

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Night is coming, and that means ghosts, skeletons and pumpkin-headed ghouls are on their way. In that situation, I’d do the same as the villagers of Castle Formers: peg it to the local castle and hide behind its cauldrons of oil, catapults and wizards that can pause time. I’d stay there, frankly. The monsters can have the village if they want it.

This is the situation that faces the people of Castle Formers, a tower defence game with some hack-and-slashery tossed in. But instead of the villagers, you play the regional hero, master of the castle, and shelterer of refugees. Each day, villagers stream to your castle, and it’s your duty to protect them.

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There’s a day-night cycle in Castle Formers, and you’ll be treating them very differently. In the day, it’s harvesting time: you head out of the castle and into its grounds, where you try to make a quick buck. There are coins hidden in bushes, mushrooms and flowers, which we won’t question, and somebody keeps leaving treasure chests about. While it remains daylight, you will be hoovering up coins and then returning to the castle to spend them.

While you have been ransacking the countryside, ‘disciples’ have been arriving for your protection. Among them are characters who bolster and improve your castle. A witch offers potions that deliver random effects; a pair of catapult operators offer protection; and a trader sells you bombs and crossbow bolts. Precious few of these disciples offer their services for free (but we saved you, etc!), so the coins in your pouch suddenly become useful. You can replenish health, upgrade your sword, or hire defences for your castle gate. 

Night arrives. Slowly (incredibly slowly), monsters start trundling to your portcullis. They come in a variety of forms. There are skeletons who chuck arrows at you (without carrying a bow, confusingly), barrel-zombies that explode, ghosts that summon skulls at you, and dagger-throwing thieves, among others. 

How you approach these enemies is up to you. There’s the DIY approach, which has you straying past the castle walls and nobbling them yourself. You’re well armed for that: the sword you have is upgradable, and you can charge it up for a more powerful attack, plus you have a crossbow and bombs that both have limited ammo (replenished at a cost, of course). Killing them manually means that you’re more likely to stash their treasure afterwards, as coins can disappear if they are out in the open for too long. 

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It being a tower defence, Castle Formers also allows you to automate your defences. By hiring soldiers like knights, pikemen and archers, you can sit back and watch them pulverise your enemies. There’s the catapults and oil cauldrons too, should you fancy. This is often a wise option if you’re low on cash, have low health, or simply want to kick back and watch your castle at work. But you’ve got to be careful, as the castle has its own health pool, and if the castle gate or statue in the courtyard gets destroyed, then you have to return to a previous save.

For the first ten days or so, we were having a merry old time. Each day offers a new character to plug into your castle, and there’s a joyful rhythm to it all. You never quite know who’s coming next and what they will offer, plus – of course – there’s the satisfying pling of an achievement with each one (it’s 1000G for one hour, people!). If you have the same experience as us, the coffers will be overflowing, so you never feel overwhelmed or that you can’t afford the shiny trinket you’re after. Before long (no more than an hour), we had maxed out the sword upgrades, unlocked all the disciples and gained some secret keys that unlocked some spoilerific stuff in the basement. 

Everything was happening at such a canter that we could overlook some of the faults. The hack-and-slash stuff, for example, is a tad ropey. The sword-swipe can only be pulled off while standing stock still, and it has a latency that means enemies can nip in and bite your ankles. There’s no block, but you can use the sword to hit arrows mid-arc, which is hard to do when you’re up in their faces. It’s a bit hit-and-hope, but the difficulty is ratcheted so low that you needn’t worry. Only the bombs are accurate and feel like they have any sort of punch to them, but they’re so expensive and monetarily inefficient that you probably won’t use them for that purpose (exploding the rocks in the area, however, is definitely worth it). 

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Castle Formers’ glaring problem is that it can’t motivate you once the achievements stop rolling in. Once level 10 was complete, which coincided with when we fully upgraded our sword and castle, there was nothing to keep us playing. More enemies arrived, and the odd new enemy type came with them, but it wasn’t enough to excite. We found our finger drifting to the off button on our console.

Which is a shame, mostly because Castle Formers had us rapt for its first hour. We can shut our eyes and imagine a version that feels less like a demo: each disciple is upgradable with coins; there are more hidden secrets like the locked basement; bosses emerge at certain milestones; and there is more interest in the grounds outside the castle. As much as we loved wandering out and cutting down flowers, it began to feel akin to a grind. 

For £4.99 there’s a reasonable offer here. Over the course of an hour, Castle Formers will give you a fresh take on tower defence, including a conveyor belt of unlocks to reward you every five minutes or so. But after that hour, the content evaporates away, and you’re left with some shoddy controls, some grindy flower-cutting, and a sense that you should be doing something else. Is that a recommendation? It’s a resounding ‘maybe’. 

You can buy Castle Formers from the Xbox Store

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