Defend Your Castle, one of the first titles released in North America through Nintendo's newly minted WiiWare service, is less a game than it is a distraction, a simple and clever-looking novelty that baits you with some simple strategy that ultimately doesn't really go anywhere. You might call it a time-waster, but not a complete waste of time, due largely to Defend Your Castle's endearing, seemingly improvised visual style.
Like so many classic time-wasters, Defend Your Castle began its life as a web-based Flash game--in fact, you can totally use the Internet channel to play the original Flash version on the Wii, if you care to. From a gameplay perspective, the WiiWare version is virtually identical. You've got a static screen with a simple, four-cornered castle on the right, and little stick-figure invaders charge towards it from the left. You can deal with basic foot soldiers by grabbing them with your cursor and flinging them into the air, allowing gravity to do the rest. Once you've accrued enough points from killing enemies directly, you can spend those points to upgrade the defensive and offensive capacities of your castle.
In between rounds you can repair damage taken, increase the amount of damage you can take, and build towers for archers, magicians, masons, and bombers. Perhaps most important is the conversion pool, which you can drop enemy soldiers into, turning them into friendly soldiers that you use to fill your various towers. How you choose to allocate your soldiers is the most strategic thing about Defend Your Castle, though it's often easy to compensate for poor allocation choices with some speedy soldier-flinging.
So you've got some real-time combat, and some simple resource management, but the basic gameplay remains mostly static from one round to the next. Rounds get longer, enemies become faster and more numerous, and you can unlock some additional spells for your magicians, but it's not much. Also, pro tip: the game takes its sweet time ramping up the difficulty, to the point that you're probably better off just ignoring the normal difficulty and going straight for heroic. There's four-player support in here as well, which adds the fun little kink of rewarding the top-scoring player in each round with the sole ability to allocate soldiers and activate magic attacks in the following round. Really, the best thing about the gameplay is just how seemingly manic it can get at higher levels.
If all you want is gameplay, then Defend Your Castle isn't really worth the 500 Wii points they're asking. But much of the game's charm comes from its visuals, which also helps set it apart from its Flash-based predecessor. Defend Your Castle looks like an arts & crafts collage made from whatever the artist had around, giving the whole thing a tactile, hand-crafted quality. The background looks like construction paper laid over a cork board, with passing clouds dangling from bits of yarn. Your cursor looks like a bread-bag clip. Soldiers appear to be crayon drawings topped with shirt buttons or bottle caps and googly eyes, with some being armed with broken popsicle sticks or explosive rings of cap-gun caps. Even the explosions just sound like someone making an explosion sound with their mouth.
The presentation goes a long way towards making Defend Your Castle a worthwhile experience, but after a few hours of fending off hordes of DIY enemies, I was done with it. There's a much more involved, much more interesting game to be made here, though I suppose part of the appeal of Defend Your Castle is that it's relatively low-impact gaming.