Review: Storm Casters05 Aug 2014 0
Storm Casters has no right to be any good. I mean just look at the thing. The dead Zynga-esque eyes of its cartoony main characters should be your first warning, and the ominous plus sign in the upper right corner would send shivers down the spine of any right-minded gamer. Yes, there are consumable in-app purchases here, in a $5 game no less. So this will be an easy review. One star, move along, nothing to see here. And yet… it turns out Storm Casters is one of the most fun action games I’ve played on iOS.
Storm Casters' premise is a straightforward rehash of the motivation you've channeled in a thousand games. You are a mage, sent down to Skull Keep to plumb its depths and vanquish hundreds of its skeletal inhabitants for reasons that don’t matter. It may take place in a dungeon, but a crawl this is not. It’s more of a desperate pyrotechnic scramble, a race to the finish harried by scores of enemies. The portal to the Keep only stays open for a few seconds, and you must complete two or three floors before it closes in order to save your progress. This game seems made-to-order for playing in quick sessions.
The combat is equally frantic and satisfying. Swords are for lesser heroes, shields are for cowards. You are a mage, summoning fire bolts from your hands and watching skeletons explode before you. And that’s just the basic weapon. Chests and slain enemies will grant more powerful options. Storm Casters is basically a twin-stick shooter in a fantasy skin, and the spells you pick up usually fall into common weapon archetypes of the genre, like the Painspitter (machine gun), Boomshot (shotgun) and Flamecaster (you get the idea, surely).
You can only use one spell type at a time, and each has limited ammo, which is a bit odd thematically but loads of fun in practice.. Once your ammo runs out or you pick up a new weapon your current spell vanishes. This means you are constantly switching tactics, conserving your last few bits of ammo until a new weapon drops, then quickly adapting to dish out a new kind of devastation. Throw in a few types of bombs which can wipe out dozens of enemies at a time, and you’ve got a setup that is as simple as it is rewarding.
However, this is where the game’s final third comes in. Its awkward third. The third I warned you about at the beginning of this review. Because Storm Casters is not just an action RPG. It’s not just a twin-stick shooter. It’s also a collectible card game, a tricycle with one wheel that’s just a little bit wobbly.
As you play, you’ll unlock cards, which usually represent spells, bombs or passive buffs. Any weapons you’ve unlocked have a slight chance of appearing as pickups in the dungeon. Each time you brave its depths, the game will randomly select three cards from your collection to be your loadout for that run. If a weapon appears in your loadout it will have a much higher chance of dropping in the dungeon. By spending a small amount of gold (which can only be earned in-game, no real money involved just yet) you can reshuffle your cards for a new loadout. There’s also a rudimentary crafting system that allows you to fuse together cards of the same type to make them more powerful.
You know where this is going. Yes some cards can be unlocked by playing and levelling up. They can also be unlocked with gems, which are gained slowly through playing or quickly by reaching into your wallet. The whole card-collecting system is interesting in theory, but it feels unnecessary at best and exploitive at worst.
Thankfully it can mostly be ignored. I haven’t spent anything on in-app purchases and I’ve still had a great time with Storm Casters. The weapons I’ve unlocked as a free player are still plenty of fun and don’t feel underpowered. Shuffling through loadouts before each run is a bit of a hassle, but once you’ve entered the dungeon the clunky elements fade away, leaving you to sprint towards the exit and blow up skeletons to your heart’s content.
Storm Casters is a challenging game. You’re not the burliest of protagonists, and often all it takes is a single well-placed hit from one of the many swarming skeletons to finish you off. You’ll do your best to bob and weave between ranged attacks, keeping just out of reach of your foes’ swords, and it’s thrilling when you pull it off. The frantic pace means death is rarely too frustrating.
The gold you earn can be used to level up your hero, boosting your attack strength or increasing the length of time you have on each delve. Your portal to Skull Keep will eventually remain open for entire minutes at a time, although the game never loses its sense of urgency.
There are two control schemes which can be switched out in the options menu. Both work mostly well but have their quirks. With the default setup you will move your character with your left thumb operating a virtual joystick while tapping the fire button on the right to shoot towards the nearest enemy. This usually handles fine, although it can be frustrating when the game targets one enemy while you would much rather be ruining the life of a slightly more distant foe.
The second method replaces the fire button with a second joystick, which allows you to aim your fire in true twin-stick fashion. Unfortunately this is somewhat clumsy on a touchscreen. Aiming is never as precise as it feels like it should be.
None of Storm Casters’ awkward bits get in the way of a genuinely good action game. The pace is perfect, the weapons are varied and the difficulty level challenges without ever feeling too punishing. Though each individual trip to Skull Keep is brief, its 50ish floors will keep you busy for quite some time. Ignore the dreaded plus sign, it will quickly become irrelevant, drowned out by the simple, timeless joy of magically disintegrating of skeletons by the hundred.
Storm Casters was played on an iPhone 5s for this review.