*Author’s Note* BattleBlock Theater is exclusive to Xbox 360 through the Xbox Live Arcade
Battleblock Theater (henceforth referred to as BBT) is an interesting mix of a game. I find it very difficult to pin down and define because the more I play it the more it shows me that it has more to offer. It’s a fantastic array of game types aside from the story go a long way to provide a welcome distraction from the main game. These things I will touch on a little later but for now I’d like to talk about the AV side of things.
Firstly, the visuals. BBT is a lovely game to look at, with its wonderful hand draw art style. It is the same unique style that has been seen throughout The Behemoth’s titles and even prior to that when Alien Hominid a game I blasted through back on Newgrounds. This is shown best I would say through the multitude of customizable heads available for unlock via the in-game currency (glowing green gems) that is collected as part of the main game’s story mode along with rewards for multiplayer games. The cutscenes of the game and many of the game’s other aspects (such as level intros etc) on the other hand, share the same design styles, just on a flat “on a stick” style puppet show motif which ties in with the game’s setting and story. As a whole, the visuals are super polished and likely leaving you wishing you had a little more drawing talent yourself.
The audio is also great with many catchy tunes as you plow through the main story mode of the game, especially through the main hub of the theater as you wander from level to level. The problem I had was that I felt there just wasn’t… enough of it. I felt at times playing through the levels; that the music was one of about 5 choices and that is about it. This may be due to being spoilt for great music and a vast array of, in The Behemoth’s previous title “Castle Crashers” but regardless feels a little lacking in the variety department. It should be noted that all the SFX of the game were spot on and only one comes to mind if I was asked if they ever bordered on annoying: that being the sound of the blazing rock that projects you away. There are quite a few sections where it surrounds you and you’re forced to hear the sound basically spammed through multiple hits, but even then it isn’t cringe inducing, I’m just nit-picking as the sound is great.
As a final note on sound there is the narration by Stamper. I see this as a possibility of irritation to some gamers, which is not a new occurance in gaming. I personally loved it all and selected the option in the settings where he is basically spewing comments all the time and never grew tired. I am also a big fan of Claptrap in the borderlands games, so do with that information what you will.
Now, down to design. Like I mentioned earlier, the game is hard to peg, because when you start playing you instantly find it akin to games such as the New Super Mario Bros series, especially with the chaotic multiplayer where, like Mario, there is potential for “that friend” to betray you at inopportune moments even if you share a common goal. The basis of the game is to get from point A to point B (with enough gems etc) but getting there involves activating complex devices, avoiding their attempts to kill you and moving on to another section that you’ve been propelled to. As I progressed though, I noticed a distinct change in the design and function of the levels though. It becomes very much a puzzle game where you must still get to the end with the gems, but the levels are no longer a point A to point B gauntlet anymore but instead a case of several possible paths open at the start, each with its own little objective that allows an overall path to open. Things like multiple switches that need pressing or light-way bridges activated/deactivated so as to no longer impede progress or to overcome something else blocking the way (usually just a threat of instant death). Please don’t interpret this as a negative, it is fantastically well made and the levels are diabolically engrossing.
As I mentioned in the last section, BBT is rife with multiplayer goodness. The co-op takes the pre-existing levels and makes slight alterations that require teamwork to progress while still having some of those single player bits, meaning players can divide and conquer the gem collection. Aside from that there is the multiplayer game modes you can play either local or online. Beyond the “challenge” game which is basically a time trial competition, these are a complete tempo shift from the main game and co-op. With 8 modes total (challenge included) you’ll find yourself doing everything from collecting gold from a floating gold whale to playing basketball with a soccer ball to just beating the snot out of each other. I can say from experience hammering out several hours with other reviewer here Paul that they are supreme fun and can get extremely tense.
Throughout all this though it isn’t all smooth sailing for your ship of friends, the SS friendship. The game I feel suffers from not enough instruction. There are options that aren’t explained and intructions such as moves/attacks that are hidden in help screens you need to search for, else figure it out yourself. This is a minor detraction, but still worthy of note. A bigger problem was the layout of the multiplayer game set up itself. Starting a simple Xbox live game with someone already in my party requires several screens and still needs me to invite them. Furthermore, you’re unable to stop playing what you’re playing, game-wise, and choose something else without closing the whole party game (or if you can, it isn’t instructed to you how to do so). I also personally had the problem of people just jumping into your match without the ability to get rid of them. There isn’t a kick function, and to make a game private you need to set all spots as so before you even begin. This makes ease of use very limited on the multiplayer side of things, which is a shame because I could really see this as a dominant multiplayer force.
There are many things I haven’t mentioned yet, such as the very involved and well-equipped level editor (that supports levels of all game types, including those mad multiplayer ones), the online and friends leaderboards or the Furrbottom’s features (mostly because I have no idea what that is yet, as again, its unexplained).
To sum up, this is a fantastic game that I’d reccomend to just about anybody, because its that much fun and easy to take in. Aside from a few menu gripes and the odd rage quit from the often insane difficulty, it really is hard to find flaw with this game. Before I sign off though, there are a few things I’d like to pass on: Firstly, if you’re a platformer fan BBT and it’s double jump mechanics will take some serious getting used to as you can start your first jump mid-air rather than the normal mandetory from the ground position. Secondly, the game comes with a frightening insane mode which removes all the in level checkpoints if you’re a bit of a masochist. Finally I’d like to mention that any owners of Alien Hominid HD and/or Castle Crashers will be rewarded with special heads to play as in BBT but most noteworthy is that The Behemoth has gone back and added new content to Castle Crashers in the form of the “Can’t Stop Crying” pack featuring Hatty Hattington, a new pet and 3 new weapons. So, basically all you need to know is buckle your pants and get yourself some more Behemoth goodness, available now on the Xbox Live arcade marketplace.