I love the absurd. I am not ashamed to admit that I have a very juvenile sense of humor and I may be considered a true poop joke aficionado. It’s no wonder that I’m a fan of The Behemoth and their wacky comedy. When I first saw that deer in Castle Crashers, dashing across the screen, leaving poop piles behind him in terror, they won my heart. It’s been a long wait, but finally their much-anticipated game, BattleBlock Theater, has been released on XBLA.
Within minutes of starting the game you can see, and hear, that Behemoth’s quirky sense of humor has carried over into BattleBlock Theater. The introduction was so great, cutscene and all, it made me laugh so hard I was brought to tears. As for the story, you and a number of friends are traveling in a yacht, a “friend” ship, when suddenly a violent storm approaches and many of your friends are lost, which is hilariously told by the narrator complete with lots of “Whooooooosh!” sound effects. Eventually your boat shipwrecks onto a mysterious island, which is inhabited by some not so cute kitties. Your ‘bestest’ friend, Hattie Hattington, is captured and a mysterious hat is placed upon his head turning him against you. You are imprisoned and forced to perform a series of feats and trials created by Hattie, and all of these are to be completed in front of an audience of evil cats.
A platformer at its core, with puzzle and beat ‘em up elements, BattleBlock Theater offers over 100 levels to play through alone or with a friend, and no split screen I might add! The goal in each level is unlock the exit by collecting at least three gems scattered throughout. Each level is very cleverly designed, with a number of obstacles to overcome. The levels are made up of a wide range of blocks that can be sticky, icy, liquid, spikey, or invisible, and they can be used to assist or deter you from reaching the exit. Of course ferocious felines, rabid racoons, and even killer toast (yep, I said that) are attacking you as you try to navigate your way through! Oh, lets not forget that also thrown in are some very creative ways of reaching the next platform, such as paddling a boat towards you or using a jet pack to send you soaring into the air. Things get pretty tough; however, the difficulty level does ramp up at just the right pace. Thankfully, there is no consequence for dying, and you will respawn exactly where you perished, to continue on, or die three more times trying to jump up to next platform…like I did!
Throughout each level, as previously mentioned, are a number of gems to be collected. While only three are required to exit, collecting all of them will give you a better score at the end (you can get up to an A++), and you can also collect a ball of yarn found within each level should you find it. Yarn, which can be traded to cat prison guards, is used to purchase new weapons, while the gems can be used in the prison gift shop to free other prisoners or unlock head shapes, which allows you to customize your character. Circle, square, cylinder, triangle shapes are available and each head shape has a wide range of hilarious faces to unlock. This adds a nice collectable element to the game; and if you’ve played The Behemoth’s previous games, such as Castle Crashers and Alien Hominid, and the save game is on your Xbox 360, character heads from those games will be available for you to use too.
The controls are quite simple and easy to master. You’ll find your standard jump, double jump, climb, etc. here and they feel responsive and fluid. However, the combat wasn’t much to write home about. It felt a bit strange, and often when confronting one of the feline foes, my melee or weapon tool wasn’t very effective against them at all. I would end up just jumping or running away from them, or I made them fall into water, lava, spikes, etc.
Adding to the extensive single player/co-op campaign is a multiplayer suite with 8 competitive modes that can be played locally or online. You have Soul Snatcher (you steal an enemy’s soul), Muckle (much like Super Smash Bros), King of the Hill, Ball Game (like basketball), Grab the Gold, Challenge, and finally Color the World (you run about the level coloring more blocks than the opposing team). Fun, frantic, and at times somewhat frustrating as the levels seem a bit too small, despite only having four players in the game; this is what comes to mind when thinking about the multiplayer modes. That being said, there is definitely some value with all the multiplayer levels and modes though and it is great that they added them. There is also a rich level editor in which the community can create and upload levels with ease, adding a nice replay value given you never know what the community will create for you to download and play.
The hand drawn 2D animation that The Behemoth is best known for returns in BattleBlock Theater. You are bombarded with a bright and bold colour palette and a cast of cute, cartoonish characters. The quirky, charming soundtrack will stay in your head for days, much like the music from their previous games, but this time you’ll find along with the upbeat tunes there are tracks filled with cat meows. The real audio star of the Battleblock Theater however is the narrator. His comments throughout the game, the hilarious introduction, his horrified exclamations when you die, “Oh my goodness gracious!!!” to his warbled singing, all of his lines were extremely funny and very well written.
While I rather enjoyed my time with the BattleBlock Theater there was something that I can’t quite put my finger on, something that stops it from being truly amazing for me. I played in spurts, an hour here, and hour there, and strangely enough I found myself growing bored quickly with the platforming and the frantic multiplayer. While I appreciate the humor, the wacky characters, and the quirky music, I found it grew tiresome after a couple hours, having a sense that I’ve been here, done this before. Castle Crashers was truly amazing for me, but this, this feels like more of the same, which I suppose isn’t necessarily a bad thing. That said, this game is one of the best titles available on XBLA right now, and for a mere 1200 MS points, Battleblock Theater offers a huge amount of content. With an extensive single player campaign, hundreds of items to collect, numerous multiplayer modes, and community created-uploaded levels, BattleBlock Theater gives you a lot of bang for your buck making this pretty much a no brainer purchase.