Battleblock Theater is a game that debuted with high expectations, coming from Behemoth, which brought us the hit game Castle Crashers. Fans were understandably wondering if this new game would be in the same vein as the hack and slash classic.
Battleblock Theater ended up being something completely different. And as we all know, “different” doesn’t always translate to “quality.”
So, is Battleblock Theater worth your time, or should you stick with saving princesses in Castle Crashers?
Style to Spare
The one thing that Battleblock Theater has in common with Castle Crashers is the style. Once again, there is 2D animation that feels simultaneously classic and fresh. And while the characters have simple designs, each design is filled with humor and personality.
This extends to the level design as well. Counting the bonus content, there are dozens of stages for you to fight and solve your way through. You might think that the level design would get stale and repetitive, but each new level feels genuinely “new,” and that adds to the manic fun of continuing to play the game.
Easy to Learn, Tough to Master
Over the years, many games (including classics like Chess) have had a simple description: “Easy to learn, tough to master.” And that just happens to be the perfect description for Battleblock Theater as well.
Actual gameplay is deceptively simple. In any given level, all you have to do is collect items and find the exit. Sounds easy, right?
However, Battleblock Theater is a puzzle platformer with a firm emphasis on “puzzle.” It’s never easy to get from Point A to Point B because you (along with an optional friend) must figure out all the tricks involved in unlocking the path.
Newbie gamers can instantly pick up a controller and start playing. However, even veteran gamers might find themselves tempted to throw their controller in rage at some of the more difficult puzzles.
If you ask gamers what they liked about Castle Crashers, many will say “the humor.” Beyond the idea of leveling up by fighting monsters was a truly bizarre sense of humor that held everything together. Fortunately, that sense of humor is alive and well in Battleblock Theater.
Much of that humor comes down to the narration. Will Stamper provides narration for everything from the overall narrative (involving you and your friends crashing onto an island and being imprisoned by an army of cats) to some of the minor events and pratfalls you encounter.
Not only does that sense of humor keep you laughing, but it keeps you engaged. Sometimes, it’s worth playing another level just to experience the next bizarre joke or hilarious line delivery. And that teaspoon of humorous sugar is often enough to make the medicine of difficult level design go down just a bit easier.
The “Meh” in “Melee”
Sadly, no game is perfect. And for all of its humor, style, and amazing level design, Battleblock Theater had to end up with an Achilles heel. And that heel, specifically, is combat.
In fact, calling it combat may be overselling it a bit. In addition to environmental traps and mechanical puzzles, your characters must contend with a variety of enemies. That is typically handled by either punching them or throwing one of a handful of items at them.
It’s not the worst combat system in the world, and you could certainly make an argument that we shouldn’t expect robust combat from a puzzle game. But after the sheer fun of hacking and slashing our way through Castle Crashers, it’s hard not to be disappointed at what we ended up getting here.
Even if you only buy Battleblock Theater for the single-player mode, you’ll get your money’s worth. You can easily spend 30 hours or more trying to win every stage and bonus stage and max out your possible score on each level.
However, the game’s value jumps up dramatically when you bring a friend. At the most basic level, for example, you can play through the campaign together, making certain puzzles a bit easier and the whole experience more rewarding.
The game also includes an Arena mode in which you and up to three other players can duke it out in a variety of modes. This includes familiar concepts like King of the Hill and Capture the Flag (more like “capture the soul” in this case) and more adventurous ideas like “Color the World” and “Capture the Horse”).
Are all multiplayer modes equally fun? The honest answer is “No.” But getting so much multiplayer goodness on top of a lengthy and challenging campaign feels absolutely awesome.
Ultimately, I recommend Battleblock Theater wholeheartedly. If you’re going in expecting in-depth combat or a Castle Crashers sequel, you’ll be disappointed. Everyone else will be excited to discover a surprisingly engaging puzzle platformer that presents lots of fun and challenges to every kind of gamer.