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Game Info:

Castle Battles
Developed By: Light Arc Studio Ltd
Published By: Light Arc Studio Ltd
Released: December 16, 2016
Available On: Windows
Genre: Action, Strategy
ESRB Rating: Unrated
Number of Players: Single Player Only
Price: $7.57 on Kinguin.net
(Kinguin Affiliate Link)

[This review was finished after the April 25, 2017 update.]

Thanks Light Arc Studio for sending us your game!

Castle Battles sounds like your usual 'storm the fort' RPG or war simulation game. Well, this is a war simulation and you do storm forts, but in this game you'll find it's quite different from the normal fare. Developed and produced by Light Arc Studio, Castle Battles charges forward on the Steam market, ready to prove that there's more than one way to skin a cat - or conquer armies in this case.

Long ago, as described by the Great Tapestry, a utopian country called Castle Land was home sweet home to facial hair loving Mustachiers, and like any good fairytale, it doesn't take long for things to go sour. Swarms of Evil Chaps from the Clearly Evil Empire invaded and forced the Mustachiers to flee far into an icy wasteland. Nowadays, they're cold, they're hungry. Their mustaches have freeze dried, and they won't put up with this any longer. The local hero, Meatstachio, has stepped up and vows to expunge Dark Lord Steriatype and his Evil Chaps from Castle Land once and for all. As expected, the Clearly Evil Empire won't leave quietly. Not to mention two other armies soon decide to crash the party for their own reasons, so there's that too. It seems there's a lot more going on here than anyone realizes.

Castle Battles is structured through a series of four ten-level campaigns. You unlock more of the plot for beating levels, and each campaign focuses on each army's side in the story. However, these adventure threads are continuous and thus are locked to a specific order. I for one think this was a good, safe approach. Games that've tried to offer different sides to the same story often suffer from plot point overlap, but going at it as one long story avoids the pitfalls without losing the novelty. Before starting each level, you can set the difficulty between four settings. Winning harder levels will earn you bigger trophies. Now, the award system works out fine, but an issue arose after their recent update that I'll discuss in a minute. There's also this nifty Quick Match feature that allows players to make quick, customizable play sessions, so that's cool.

As for the story itself, Castle Battles pretends to be this dramatic epic, but to my pleased shock, once those characters started talking, they shut that notion down fast. Mustachiers and Evil Chaps pelt each other with self aware wit, puns, and overt speeches that turn their dialogue into genuine comedy. Before long, their banter became something I looked forward to. I wanted to finish the challenges just for the sake of it. At least that's how it was in the first half. Once the Purperilous and Order of Awesome come in though, the plot decided to act more serious, but the creators just could not pull it off. Their attempts at conviction bored me. It killed the lighthearted mood so much that even the second half's sillier antics were dulled. What's more is that they tried to use some philosophical jibber jabber that I couldn't make heads or tails of. I think maybe they were trying to offer some deep commentary about gamers and gaming habits, but sorry, Castle Battles. Undertale not only beat you to it, they did it infinitely better. The whole result saddened me really. Here's a story that denied its own special identity to become another's cheap copycat. Take note, Light Arc. An ultra klutzy kid who can paint Rembrandt shouldn't trade his brushes in for dance shoes.

Castle Battles
Highlights:

Strong Points: Solid Intuitive Gameplay; Good Sense of Humor
Weak Points: Not Good at Drama; Lacks a Rules Sheet
Moral Warnings: Minimal Scariness; Mild Language; Questionable Purple King

Well, despite its writing fumbles, Castle Battles got the most crucial aspect down pat: gameplay. To win, you must conquer a game board that's made up of hexagonal shapes. You claim territory by first building in spaces closest to your starting castle. Over time, your army and forts will grow, and once you're ready, you can seize enemy sectors by force. This does mean sacrificing some men, but omelets aren't made with uncracked eggs. If you're the last swarm standing, you win. However, any ole' idiot can shout 'Charge!' It takes a lot of cunning to win. In one instance fighting might be the answer, but other times it's best to wait it out. Even how you place your castles early on can determine the outcome. This leads to Castle Battles' amazing 'resource' mechanic. Among the empty hexagonal plots, there are spots that supply stone, gold, or food to the first castle built next to it. More stone means more building materials. Gold doubles an army's size and reproduction rate, and food spaces toughen defenses and speeds up fortification. The trick is securing these vital spaces. Do you now see how impressive this entire system is? It takes full advantage of real wartime needs to truly capture that feeling of running an actual conquest. Is it wiser to race your enemies for gold or to cut off their path? Do you have enough stone to build? Do you have enough men to defend new forts? Can you steal their castles and resources and squelch a counterattack? Decisions, decisions, decisions. My only complaint is that the game didn't have readable instructions on how to play. They haphazardly explain it once then leave you to your own devices. As a result, I had to re-learn everything by trial and error. Sure, I got the hang of it again, but I'm unsure if others would fare so well or have the patience to.

Picking up on Castle Battles' controls are a breeze. In army mode, click and drag your mouse to highlight the men you want to send out then click the desired location. They'll make a beeline for it, but how quickly they get there will depend on their path. Naturally, crossing water is harder than land, so you've gotta take that into account. That's why in the top corner of your screen lies a handy-dandy fast forward button. It speeds up the game's pace, making for exciting offensive waves. Of course, if you thirst for total domination, first hit the space bar or toggle your team symbol. This alerts your entire army to your will. I've gotta say, it is most gratifying to swallow up your foes under your overwhelming masses. Last of all, if you want to add another castle to your evolving empire, building mode is accessed via the 'Shift' key. Press it then click on the available spot you want to claim. Everything about this control scheme is fine by me. What few complaints I have are quite small. Sometimes certain troops were highlighted for no reason, and I wish they had a 'cancel construction' feature for those times I picked a space I didn't really want. Oh, well. I suppose that just adds more weight to your choices.

For visuals, the first thing I noticed were the extremely bold, primary colors. I almost thought this technicolor mishmash clashed a bit, but then again, 'clashing' is what Castle Battles is all about. The backgrounds were indeed vibrant, and the undiluted blues, reds, purples, and golds were fantastic at keeping our feuding armies distinct. There's even some texturing and hidden details that showcase the artists' extreme creativity. Now, I used to have one issue. I emphasize: used to. There's this strange visual blurring that would separate color layers into what looks like a cheap 3D effect. It bugged my eyes, but a recent update added an 'Off' switch in the options menu. Thank the Lord for that. As for music, it's pretty fantastic. The composer rooted his approach in a dominantly electronic tone yet worked it into many styles from classy to oriental. Most soundtracks had me tapping and bouncing my head to funky beats, and I loved it. I did notice, though, that some music loops had awkward pauses between cycles, but that didn't put a dent in its overall quality.

Castle Battles
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 94%
Gameplay - 19/20
Graphics - 10/10
Sound - 9/10
Stability - 4/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 79%
Violence - 7/10
Language - 7/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

Let's also take a moment to applaud Castle Battles for their voice cast. They too played a big role in the game's atmosphere. I groaned when I first heard the voiceovers, but to my surprise Castle Battles wouldn't be nearly as enjoyable without it. From leader to subordinate, each personality was as distinguished as their team colors. The strong accented Moustachiers combine noble code with viking bluster. Purperilous are wraith-like, warble voiced creeps. Members of the Order of Awesome 'chillax' with their surfer dude attitude, but I had the most fun with the Clearly Evil Empire. Those Evil Chaps are so passionate about their cliched scheming, it's hilarious. I especially tip my hat to Dark Lord Steriatype. If his name wasn't funny enough, his actor treated him with the golden standard for lovable jerks. Over the top delivery, zany cackles, voice fluctuations: he clearly had the time of his life doing the role. You really can't help loving it. This game just so delights in hamming it up. How unfortunate then that our two female leads didn't get the memo. Yeah, when surrounded by such flamboyant energy, the ultra serious girls ended up flat and dry. Don't get me wrong, it's not bad to have females that are all business, but I would have liked at least one silly girl having as much fun as the guys. Oh, well. Chalk it up to my personal preference I guess.

During my playthrough, Light Arc Studios installed that update I've mentioned. It did provide some positives like the blur effect on and off switch and a skip level option for those who only want to enjoy the story. However, while the update did improve some aspects, I think it also added some stability woes. I'm now barred from receiving Steam achievements that I legitimately earned. I also intended to win all levels, so you can understand why I didn't like getting thrown over into the aftermath dialogue - twice. Ironically, that rewarded me trophies I did not earn. It's hilariously reversed. Go figure. Also there was that one time the game got stuck and forced me to restart my computer, but I don't know how much of it was my fault or the game's fault. I wouldn't sweat it though. It only happened the one time and unlikely to happen again.

To its ethical merit, Castle Battles stayed pretty clean. Violence is mostly just tiny team icons blinking in and out of existence, and whatever plot centric deaths or tortures occur are mentioned but never onscreen. However, oddly similar to the story, most questionable tidbits I found cropped up in the second act. A couple bits of crude language were poorly disguised as 'Arse' and 'H*lla'. There is one use of 'Da**ed' and three cases of 'A**'. Some character designs might scare smaller players, and to my utter dissatisfaction, both possible endings don't lend happy ends to the cast. Mustachiers do put a lot of faith in their mustaches. The Purperilous do have this demonic vibe and have sages that don't do much beyond spewing prophecies, and the Great Tapestry is reverently referred to, though I'm not exactly sure why. Last thing to trigger my alarm bells is when the leader of the Purperilous insisted she be called King. To be fair, she's a possibly genderless being, and thankfully the game doesn't really go anywhere with it. However, extreme feministic thinking or an LGBT implication could have been intentional. I really just don't know.

Castle Battles has a lot going for it. It's got a welcoming sense of humor. Its rules are easy to understand once learned, and its gameplay system is pure intelligence candy. I cannot express enough how much I loved the 'resource' mechanics. In fact, this kind of unique approach is exactly what can make any game standout. However, some blunders did dampen my enthusiasm such as the questionable Purple King and minimal language misuse. I just still find it incredibly strange how the second part produced most of my complaints. It almost felt like two separate teams split the workload between themselves, then sketch taped their finished halves together. It's really odd. Anyway, it might be too complex for kids and too slow for action seekers. On the flip side, those who loved board games like Chess or Stratego will adore this thing. Well, Castle Battles may have tripped when it comes to story and morals, but it did put gameplay, its best foot, forward.

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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