The Behemoth really came into their own with the wildly successful Xbox Live Arcade title Castle Crashers, which is still beloved to this day. Four years in the making, the group’s next project, BattleBlock Theater, has finally arrived with great anticipation on XBLA. While you can tell that the development team have chosen to not drift too far from the charming and ultraviolent formula of Castle Crashers, this followup is a terrific effort that’s chock full of goodness and may have something for everyone, though parents may want to think twice before deciding if “everyone” includes their little ones.
Despite some of the more violent hijinx, the game retains the cute cartoon aesthetic that Castle Crashers had and uses humour at every opportunity. The narrator presents the main story in a hilarious and aloof style that you would think would get annoying after a while, but never seems to, even when commentating during a level. Even the “evil” cats look funny. The Behemoth obviously have a formula that works well for them, and you’ll have a hard time not laughing while you’re playing this game.
If there weren’t the disembodied heads and bones of prisoners rolling around every so often, I’d talk even more about how charming the game is. It may still be too violent for some though, including my wife who wasn’t all that comfortable with the kids playing it (by the way, they loved it, mostly the silliness of making themselves blow up to the sound of farting or turning on each other at the drop of a hat, or more appropriately, a grenade). We agreed to disagree on this one, but I certainly see her point and your mileage may vary. It does earn its “T” rating, though I’d argue this is one of those games that might be okay for a younger gamer if the level of violence isn’t too much for you. For your convenience, we’ve recorded some game footage for you to check out so you can see how comfortable you are with it.
Outside of the violence, this is a solid, quality game. The platforming and puzzling is done well in BattleBlock Theater, and when you decide to actually work together, the co-op levels are great for reinforcing teamwork. The difficulty does start to ramp up pretty significantly as you get to the middle of the game, though. There were times in the game as early as the third chapter where I had to take control of a character to get through some of the trickier spots. Luckily, on normal difficulty, the penalties for dying aren’t particularly harsh, and you have unlimited lives and time (unless you want to beat the par time for the level if you’re in a timed boss battle level). There’s also the combat element, which is fairly strong, but maybe not quite as smooth as I would have liked. It’s a minor quibble, but it felt a little sluggish at times and took some getting adjusted to.[row][span2][/span2][span8][divider_1px]
When unlocking characters and weapons turns deadly
I think I realized just how silly and fun this game was when Owen and I got into a frantic impromptu back and forth battle of hitting each other and blowing each other up with grenades. Thing is, we weren’t in a story level or a battle arena. We were in the Gift Shop, a small hub area in the overworld where you can unlock and trade characters and weapons. We weren’t even really playing the game and found a way to have a pointless and thoroughly enjoyable fight between our characters. This feeling is found throughout the entire game, even if it means that sometimes your co-op story games devolve into a New Super Mario Bros.-like game of “screw your partner”.[divider_1px][/span8][span2][/span2][/row]
One thing you can’t complain about with BattleBlock Theater is value. For 1200 MS points, there is a lot of game in here. The Story mode itself features over 70 levels of puzzle-platforming goodness, but the levels get subtle tweaks when you play co-op story mode, forcing you to use teamwork manoeuvres to get through them. It’s almost two separate game modes in one (in fact, it really is, progress in single-player doesn’t seem t0 carry over into co-op and vice-versa). On their own, these would be almost enough to justify the price of the game, but BattleBlock Theater is not done.
There’s a separate Arena mode that sees you battling either locally or online in your choice of EIGHT different game types (if you’re a solitary gamer like me, you’ll receive an AI opponent to go one-on-one with) for dominance. These games include, among others, free-for-all fights, a capture-the-flag type game that sees you riding a horse back to your base to score, soul stealing, and a basketball-football combination. Suddenly, this one or two player game becomes a hilarious party game, or something you can take online.
Not content to stop there, The Behemoth have also included a level editor that allows you to create your own diabolical levels and arenas to share with others. The best of these will also be curated in a separate part of the game called Furbottom’s Features. This adds even further replay value (not unlike the LittleBigPlanet games, though The Behemoth went for simplicity here), though the game was pretty content rich even without it.
The GamerPops Recommendation
The cartoon-on-cartoon violence will easily be the most polarizing thing about BattleBlock Theater. Some won’t care about the sometimes excessive carnage inflicted on the characters, and for some it will be a dealbreaker. Beyond that, the game is funny, challenging without being cheap, and has tremendous variety and value. And it’s fun. The Behemoth have another winner on their hands with BattleBlock Theater, a game that can be enjoyed by gamers of all ages, but perhaps should only be enjoyed by some.
A review code was provided to GamerPops.
ESRB Rating Summary
Rating Category: T for Teen
Content Descriptors: Blood, Crude Humor, Violence
Rating Summary: None provided.