Sometimes, genre fusion just seems to make obvious sense. For instance, mixing action games with RPG elements appears as logical as pairing peanut butter and jelly. But some combinations don't have such apparent synergy. If someone asked me what I thought of mixing Angry Birds with tower defense, I'd say they were trying to cash in on two financially proven ideas at once in the hopes of creating a magical, money-printing machine. And yet, here comes CastleStorm, a game that combines the two in a unique "peanut butter and chocolate" sort of way.
Here's the gist: You have a castle, and your opponent on the other side of the stage has one too. Your overarching goal is to bring down your enemy's stronghold while defending your own, which sounds simple enough, but rather than revolving around one mechanic like the games it's born from, CastleStorm gives you several to toy with at once. The primary one is your castle's ballista, which you aim and fire much like you would a certain, popular, ill-tempered bird. Using your arsenal of homing eagles, flying sheep, and many more, you'll try to reduce your enemy's lair to rubble.
The second major component revolves around sending soldiers out to raze the opposition's gates, grab their flag, and return home with it. This is where the game starts showing its tower defense and RTS inspirations. Offensively, you need to manage your food and supply resources while sending out mixed groups of units to overwhelm those of the bad guy's. Meanwhile, using your ballista to pluck off groups of encroaching goons before they nab your flag feels very tower defense-like, especially since certain ammo types are more effective against particular baddies.
It doesn't end there, either, with a mix of magic spells at your disposal, as well as a deployable hero unit that you control directly to cut swathes through enemy ranks in limited bursts, there's a lot going on at once. It may sound like too much, but the controls are laid out well enough that once you get familiar, you can juggle all of these elements at will, making for some really satisfying battles.
As fun as the combat itself is, though, the feature that's really going to give the online and local multiplayer legs is the castle editor, where you get to build your fortress from scratch or load up and edit an existing design. How you build your castle determines what units you can field, how much food and supply you have, and how quickly you generate resources. You've also got to consider structural integrity, since castle damage is physics-based as well. Poor construction means your opponent could target one key area and bring the rest toppling down in one fell swoop. Think of it like trying to design a level of Angry Birds that's impossible to 3-star.
Before I played it, I hadn't even heard of it, but now that I have, I'm hungry for more CastleStorm. It mixes simple, second-to-second fun with surprisingly deep tactical and strategic options in a charming, fantasy-based package. Look for it on XBLA this March.