Lately, there has been a spat of mobile type puzzle games streaming onto the Xbox One. Cheap, easy to play and being very addictive are the key ingredients to their success on the home console market. Something you can spend five minutes on before the next four hours of FIFA or Gears of War. A small appetiser before the main meal, but like all pieces of finger food, some are very tasty, and some go straight back on the plate half chewed. Which is Castles I wonder?
Castles is a hybrid type game. It reminds me of a mix of Tetris, Bomberman and every other “move the tile’ puzzle game that’s on the market. You’re a builder and it’s your job to get your tower structure higher and higher. Different coloured blocks fall from the sky at timed intervals, and you need to match three or more together so they disappear and the structure gets higher. The falling blocks also have different attributes like pickaxes or ladders or hammers that can be combined together as well. Your builder runs around a grid, using all possible directions to push the blocks into the right places, and occasionally smashes a block that’s in the way with a collectable hammer. On the left of the screen is a list of objectives to achieve for each level; like two rounds of pickaxes to collect, or a certain colour combination. This makes the structure higher until it gets to a certain height and the boss battle begins. If the grid fills up and you don’t combine the blocks in time, then it’s game over I’m afraid.
Now the gameplay is simple enough. There’s the move button that does most of your work for you, shifting the blocks up, down, left and right. There a jump button that climbs you onto the blocks that hopefully will get you where you want to go to quicker. Then there is the RB button for using a powerup. That’s your lot. It sounds simple doesn’t it? Well in theory yes, but this game can be unforgiving at times. The speed of the blocks is not overly fast, but consistent, and before you know it you’ve got into a muddle and there’s no space left. Sometimes the controls feel a bit muddy and not responsive enough for your needs, so your builder doesn’t go exactly where you need him to be. The difficulty level is quite high and that spike comes quite quickly into the game. After every ten levels there is a sort of boss level that quickly becomes very hard. For example, there is a boss early on that is a helicopter. To beat it, you have to join three bombs together. My word, I hated that helicopter. I must have done that level 40 times. I was nearly in tears and I haven’t been able to look up at the sky since.
The story mode doesn’t really have a huge narrative to speak of. It’s just an introduction to each boss level and a cartoony world of non-verbal and colourful characters. The game will take you a few hours to complete in story mode and then alongside it you have the survival mode. This is basically the level building section, but it will last forever trying to beat your highest score. There is also a local two player option found in both story mode and survival. Now this is where the game will thrive because the high paced action will suit people in their living room, shouting at each other and trying to make their tower get higher.
The looks of the game are colourful and cheery. The characters are well drawn and the grid, blocks and animations are standard fair for a mobile game like this. The cut scenes are good without being mind blowing and that’s pretty much a good summary of the game as a whole. Sound wise it has good effects and all the right noises, with the tune being repetitive and uplifting; something which goes perfectly with the gameplay.
So should you buy this little indie puzzler? Well there is a big positive to Castles that I haven’t talked about yet. It’s £3.99. That won’t even get me a half a lager where I live. So it’s sometimes worth taking a punt on these smaller games that can give you a lot of short fun, especially if you can play through the two-player gameplay. On the downside, the game is rock hard and the casual puzzle gamer (me) will struggle a lot, whilst the controls can be very awkward and unresponsive at times.
I want to like Castles, I really do, but the horror memories of the helicopter boss will haunt me forever.