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Hands-on with Castle Champions iPhone game

by Phil Hornshaw

Management simulation games aren't just a dime a dozen in the iTunes App Store, they're actually free and often, they're pretty much identical.

That might be why Tiny Tower was such a stand-out when it launched in 2011. For one, it keeps management and building very intimate, as they all take place in the same structure rather than being spread out across vast landscapes, viewed from the air as if the player was sitting in orbit. For another, it's a title that manages to do the whole freemium “sit and wait for something to happen” schtick well enough that players are able to have fun without feeling inconvenienced or irritated.

If you were thinking that the biggest element Tiny Tower lacked was the ability to fight terrifying orcs and skeletons, though, I have good news for you: Castle Champions from Gamenauts is here.

Championing unique gameplay

Castle Champions, which is set to launched on March 14, isn't far off from the Tiny Tower formula. In fact, it's really similar to it. Much of your time in the game is spent constructing a castle tower by building different rooms and managing their economy. You build residences, construct businesses to employ your citizens, and keep their stores stocked so they can sell items to others. That earns you gold that can be used to expand the tower, add more rooms, and so on.

That's pretty much exactly what happens in Tiny Tower, and Castle Champions' economic element also includes assigning jobs to characters based on their “dream jobs,” which makes them more productive. Careful management of the economy is key, just like in Tiny Tower.


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Starting out

If Castle Champions is sounding like a Tiny Tower clone with a Medieval art style, though, that's only half the story. The game pretty effectively riffs on the original formula by adding a military component. After all, castles were built to defend cities and regions, not to be just Medieval shopping malls.

So as you're adding rooms to your castle, you also add rooms that produce warriors of various stripes. Each castle starts with a champion, which you choose at the outset from one of three options. Each of those champions comes with a different special ability and a different fighting style, consisting of a swordsman, archer, or mage. Choose based on your favored play style, which will also factor into how you build your castle over time.

Once you've built rooms for training swordsmen and archers, you can start assigning citizens to those jobs. The ultimate goal is to train fighters that can be sent out to battle other groups of enemies in a sort of automatic strategy session. The battles come around every three minutes, and the player's role is to assign fighters to their team and to set up a formation, usually with archers in the back to support swordsmen up front.

Battling adds necessary depth

Battles take place on a side-scrolling plane and players don't really control much, except to dole out their heroes' special attacks whenever they're charged. Your real job is in preparation – you can see your upcoming fights and the makeup of your team in the game's battle menu, and as you earn money in your castle, you can spend it on training your soldiers to make them more effective. You're also rewarded for each battle you win, and win streaks affect your castle's production.

Probably the most interesting thing about Castle Champions are its “leagues.” You'll advance through amateur and pro leagues that rank your capabilities in battle against other kingdoms. Your rank in each league after 10 battles with computer opponents determines what kinds of rewards you'll receive for the entire season, and that provides an incentive to pay attention to your battle formations and to train your warriors.

As a riff on the business simulation and Tiny Tower formula, Castle Champions is something of a breath of fresh air. Putting its focus on battles makes it feel a little more like all that economic management has a goal behind it, and the random appearance of monsters and the ability to send warriors on quests during their off time provides a few other things to do from moment to moment. If there's an issue with the game as it stands, it seems to mostly be centered on its opening tutorial – it moves fast and the game doesn't provide you much context, either for your battles or for the roles of different elements inside your castle. There's a fair degree of just winging it to see what happens.

But Castle Champions should appeal to players who like business simulations, but could use a more goal-oriented approach to the game. Castle Champions heavily relies on timers and waiting, like other games of its ilk, but the additions of battles and training warriors will help you fight through any feelings of boredom.