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When Castle Crashers was released close to five years ago it spawned a legacy of stellar arcade games that would ultimately capture the hearts (and Microsoft points) of millions of players around the globe. The game’s eye-catching cartoon aesthetics, riotous cooperative play and earnest attempt at recapturing the joys of 2D-beat-em ups culminated in an outstanding and hilarious romp. Cut to half a decade later and eerily scarce marketing, the creative minds of developer The Behemoth are back with BattleBlock Theater – a 2D-platformer alluding to the likes of Super Meat Boy and other greats within the genre. Boasting plenty of fart jokes, tight controls, challenging level design and a plethora of content, BattleBlock Theater is a thoroughly entertaining, albeit a slightly unremarkable platforming opus.
The introduction to the game’s story sets the tone right off the bat. After a bunch of brave adventurers are shipwrecked on a mysterious island home to sadistic cats who run a prison that forces the inmates to clear numerous stages full of deadly hazards, it is up to you to free your friends and high-tail it out of there. The narration is chuckle-worthy fun, but whether or not the juvenile, fart-laden humor will have you in stitches will vary from person to person – if anything, it sets a campy and light-hearted tone throughout.
From the moment you assume control of your character, which you can customize with a slew of different appearance options and weapons, the game immediately reveals its core mechanics. You clear gaps, pull off double jumps, pound on enemies and try to reach the exit. The game’s numerous stages all feature the same goal: collect at least three green glowing gems and complete the area in one piece. At the end of every level, you are given a grade based on the amount of collectibles you found, your number of deaths and overall time taken. On every level there is a total of seven green gems and one celestial garn of cat nip that is deviously tucked away somewhere on the level.
Halting your progress are usually fiendish cat enemies who stand ready to send you careening down into water thus causing you to drown, slide tackle you down from ledges or send you back to the latest checkpoint through some other heinous manner. Defeating these adversaries simply boils down to beating them repeatedly with excessive button mashing or using your weapon in hopes of decimating them for good – sadly the game’s so called “combat” is anything but satisfying. The enemies you face are more of a nuisance than worthy opponents and these encounters are easily the weakest component of the game.
Clearing these stages requires platforming, light puzzle-solving and quick reflexes and earning an A++ rating is by no means an easy feat, but an incredibly rewarding one nevertheless. Between levels you can traverse the prison that acts as your hub area and spend your hard-earned gems to purchase new customization options and the cat nips to purchase new offensive abilities, such as weaponized Frisbees, vacuum cleaners (you know the usual sorties) and a lot more.
Every chapter in the game features plentiful stages and ends with a time-trial challenge and encore levels for added content. While you might experience some slight repetition in the stage designs, they are usually large enough to encourage some exploration and new variables are gradually introduced, although not nearly frequent enough to keep you locked in the game for hours at a time. You may also opt to take on the entirety of the adventure in four-player co-op, be it locally or online. Bringing in a friend or three definitely livens up the action and levels are even altered to accommodate the cooperative aspect, meaning that in order to reach certain areas you are going have to enlist the help of another player. While filling the screen with four players can result in uncontrollable chaos, the added fun factor makes it a worthy trade-off.
Beating all the levels will likely take you several hours and many more if you strive to achieve a perfect rating on every stage and once you are done the competitive multiplayer waits. Spread across a multitude of different modes, four players can duke it out and vie for control over horses, play good old fashioned football or just beat each other to a bloody pulp and accumulate score. While not every mode is a winner – such as one that forces you to hold your opponents souls until the timer runs out – you are guaranteed to have many laughs at the hilarity that will likely ensue during your multiplayer sessions. Playing with friends is absolutely recommended.
The game’s Saturday-cartoon look fits its light-hearted tone just perfectly with lively animation, beautiful looking backdrops and a host of small touches that give way to a distinctive presentation. The sound-design gets the job done with appropriate effects and minimalistic but entertaining voice-acting. The electronic soundtrack is also solid but it has an annoying tendency to repeat itself far too often, meaning you are likely to hear the same set of songs more often that you would like.
BattleBlock Theater is a component and wholly entertaining platforming experience that offers a ton of bang for your buck. The story mode is lengthy and plenty challenging and the multiplayer modes, unlockable customization options along with a surprisingly robust level editor make the 15 dollar price tag seem like an absolute steal. That being said, the game does not make any attempts at pushing the platforming genre forward and its crude humor will not appeal to everyone. All things considered, if you approach BattleBlock Theater expecting a solid, content-rich and undeniably silly experience, then consider it a safe bet.