Living as a king or queen in a tall castle tower is something a lot of us dreamt about as children, performing royal duties such as raising taxes, invading countries, and beheading the traitors that seek to end your tyrannical rule. In Whootgames’ Castles, you don’t get to do any of that, but rather construct the tower with which the ambitious King Harold hopes will be his greatest achievement. That’s right – he sends you up there on a dangerous job and hopes to take all the credit.
You begin construction by moving blocks around on a 5×5 grid, with an additional grid surrounding the site where you can move freely. Each block is made of a certain material, such as grass, wood, stone or brick – and on every block is a symbol typically associated with production; an anvil, pickaxe, hammer, shovel, and so on. To progress, you must match three specific blocks together according to the directions provided, all while more are dropping from the sky to make your life worse. If a block manages to fill every square on the grid, it’s game over. For example, the foreman might instruct you to form a row of grass blocks, while also combining three pickaxe blocks. Completing enough of these will allow the tower grow and prosper for all the villagers to see.
Every ten levels, you gain a checkpoint and a boss arrives to wreak havoc on your construction progress. In these cases, the boss will drop certain blocks onto the grid that you will have to match up three times before being allowed to proceed. These sections act to give you a breather before you prepare for the next ten levels.
The style of play is very much reminiscent of other ‘match three’ games such as Bejeweled, HuniePop, and Kombine. While it offers a similar experience of panic and dread from poorly managing your time and resources, Castles delivers an otherwise simple but beautiful aesthetic that other games of the genre do not prioritise. Its difficulty is tough but fair, and you must be forced to make connections as fast as possible in order to survive. You can’t afford to wait around for the right combination to present itself – wasting time will give you more blocks than you can handle.
The story, although fun and challenging, is short enough that it ends just as you’re enjoying yourself. In case you’re longing for more, however, there’s also a survival mode where you can test just how long you can build for without failing. Here, there’s no specific combinations you need to make – anything goes. The mode is incredibly tough, where the frequency of falling blocks seems increased than in the story. I managed 4 minutes and 28 seconds – think you can do better?
Of course, it seems a dying trend of games these days tends to be the inclusion of couch multiplayer or splitscreen, but fortunately Castles wants you to have fun and has included both a co-op and a versus mode for you to either challenge or help your buddy. The cooperative mode lacks the urgency of the singleplayer due to the presence of another helping out, however the versus brings back a different variation of that panic, where you must now cope with outbuilding your friend while surviving the onslaught of falling blocks.
Castles is far from perfection. Its difficulty curve is unbelievably steep to begin with and eventually reaches the point of repetition. Most importantly, the controls on keyboard are frustrating and unresponsive, and while using a gamepad is more bearable, there remains a lot to be desired. For some reason, trying to connect two gamepads for use in multiplayer does not work either – with one person being forced to use the keyboard. If you’re a fan of ‘match three’ games, Castles is a fun entry. While getting to grips with the mechanics is somewhat difficult, you can master the basics very quickly and be well on your way to becoming a master builder. Its tranquil aesthetic combined with the puzzling unease from trying to multitask creates a remarkably intense experience not found in the genre. That dastardly King Harold takes all the credit for your hard work though, unfortunately.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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