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Castles (Xbox One) Review

By Nikola Suprak 06.11.2017

Review for Castles on Xbox One

The match-three genre took over the mobile market for a little while, with endless clones and copies filling the App Store. This was likely a combination of the fact that they were very popular with a casual audience and basically anyone with even a semblance of knowledge in programming could vomit one out in an afternoon and call it a week. These games never quite got their footing on more traditional gaming consoles, although a few will pop up from time to time and immediately get buried in the depths of the store page. Castles is one of the latest in a long line in this genre that are all almost identical to each other, with little more than a coat of paint to tell them apart. With so many similar titles, what does Castles on Xbox One do to distinguish itself from the lot?

The goal in Castles is pretty simple: build a castle. The king has tasked you with building a castle, and this is clearly accomplished in the traditional method of stacking three like blocks next to each other enough times and making them disappear until the castle increases by one storey. Obviously. It doesn't seem like this castle is being built to code here, but regardless of the questionable methods, things become even more complicated because the neighbouring kingdom is very much against bigger and more impressive castles being built by its neighbours.

Once every ten levels, then, it will throw some sort of boss up there to mess with construction, all of whom conveniently have weaknesses to when three things are matched together. It seems like the kingdom might want to rethink its strategy considering matching three things is the one thing the builder here is actually proficient in, but apparently devious plots are not this neighbour's strong suit. Regardless, matching three objects is the only thing that is going to get this castle built, so it falls to the hapless builder here to keep on matching until they can't match any longer.

Screenshot for Castles on Xbox One

The first thing that is going to strike fans of the genre as peculiar is that there is never any direct control over the pieces themselves. Typically in a game like this, the player can move the cursor over individual pieces and manipulate them directly. This quick and precise method of control is crucial in a puzzler, where it becomes necessary to adjust pieces rapidly on the fly with the controls getting in the way as little as possible. Here, though, there is a little character that you control, and they in turn push and pull the individual blocks on-screen. It sounds like a simple change, but in reality it completely changes the core concept.

By forcing the player to control a character, who in turn can then move the blocks, an additional level of control is added in and it makes things considerably more sluggish. Now it isn't just about moving the blocks, but worrying about getting the character to the correct place. The builder here can climb on top of the block, pushing off certain ones as they get down or bypassing them entirely, so there is some flexibility in what they can do. At the same time, though, it adds a huge level of frustration because it is painfully easy to accidentally push when trying to climb over, shoving all the blocks down a row and blocking where the actual destination was supposed to be. It makes things considerably less fluid and substantially less enjoyable, and making control over the pieces require an intermediary makes this one of the least enjoyable match-threes to come out in recent memory.

Screenshot for Castles on Xbox One

Outside of that, this largely plays like almost every other match-three in existence. Individual blocks fall from the sky on top of a grid, and by pushing three of the same kind together they disappear from the board. Blocks have both colours and designs, and matching three of either type will work to remove the pieces. In the story mode, there is often some goal that needs to be achieved to reach the next level. Match three grass tiles one time, match three tiles with a hammer icon twice, that sort of thing. Later levels will have higher number of matches required to move on, and the variety on both icons and tile type will increase to make things more difficult. It's a fairly basic concept here that has been used better many other times in many other games, and it never really captures that same fast-paced frenzy as some of the better entries in the genre. It is a bit too plodding for that, instead opting to focus on a slower more strategy-based approach. Again, most of the challenge here comes from wrangling the builder to push the blocks around, and the action is not nearly as enjoyable because of it.

The other unique aspect to the gameplay is the various bosses that pop up every once in a while to try and cause trouble. The bosses differ slightly from encounter to encounter, but all of them require three specific kinds of objects to be lined up to damage them. A helicopter can be hurt if three or more rockets are aligned, while a large mechanical boss can only be damaged if the correct piece is put in-between the two adjacent claw pieces they move around the board. Boss stages here are certainly something of a novel idea, abut almost all of these rely far too much on luck than on any actual skill. While the normal levels feel like a fairly standard and acceptable challenge, here it is entirely possible to get pushed into an unwinnable position just because the right pieces aren't falling at the right times. Sometimes the pieces will fall almost exactly as need and the boss will be a pushover, and other times the person who held the Guinness World Record for most time wasted playing this terrible game could be playing and still have no chance to finish the fight. It is a nice idea, but a fairly flawed execution and most of the time is usually spent just hoping a good pattern falls and getting ready to restart if it doesn't.

Screenshot for Castles on Xbox One

Outside of the standard story mode, there are a couple of other ways to play. There is an endless mode where there is no specific goal and the object is just to remove blocks and last as long as possible before the grid fills up. There really aren't any different mechanics here, but it does demonstrate how thin the premise is because without the specific goals or the boss fights breaking up the monotony, the concept wears thinner even more quickly. It is also possible to play with two people, either competitively or co-operatively. The co-operative mode does make things more interesting, but sort of only in that "this is so frustrating, it's funny" kind of way.

It is crazy trying to co-ordinate who is going to be pushing what, and inevitably the two players will end up messing each other up more than they will help each other. It wasn't really built for two people to be trying to do things at the same time, but the novelty does make it somewhat enjoyable for a little while, at least. Competitive is essentially the same thing as single-player, but two players are playing on two different boards at the same time. It is possible to mess with the other player, and either speed up their drops or slow down yours, but it really isn't an interesting enough core concept to make competitive play any fun. Really, the fundamental concept behind the game is flawed, so it doesn't matter how many different modes they threw in here, it never was going to be enjoyable at all.

Screenshot for Castles on Xbox One

Cubed3 Rating

3/10
Rated 3 out of 10

Bad

Castles is in a very unfortunate release as it is highly derivative of a very tired formula, yet at the same time does things worse than most of the games that came before it. Having the player control a character that pushes the blocks leads to an enormous amount of undue frustration and makes this somehow even less palatable. Even when they try something kind of new, it just doesn't lead to the kind of pay off that it should. It is just a stale, uninteresting game in a stale, uninteresting genre. Perhaps the most rabid of match-three enthusiasts might get a kick out of this, but this castle is one that should just be torn down.

Developer

Badland Games

Publisher

BadLand Games

Genre

Puzzle

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  3/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

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