BattleBlock Theater Review
If you are a platforming fan, you owe it to yourself self to pick up BattleBlock Theater. A masterpiece of level design, game company The Behemoth have finely crafted a wonderful game filled with humour, charm, and plenty of challenges for both the casual and dedicated gamer alike.
BattleBlock Theater (Xbox 360)
Developer: The Behemoth
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Released: April 3rd, 2013
Within the first moments of the story mode, BattleBlock Theater sets a both witty and charming tone, very reminiscent of their past games Alien Homonid and Castle Crashers. Unlike those efforts, the humour in BattleBlock Theater has been ramped up to 10. The humour is just witty enough for the adult audience, while still being PG enough for the little ones to enjoy (be prepared for quite a few poop jokes). It’s clear that this game was designed for families to enjoy together, much as Castle Crashers was. Couch co-op is where this game shines, but the single player portion stands alone as a great platforming experience.
This game is packed to the brim with content, making the $15 price point more than fair. The main attraction is the story mode, which tells the tale of a voyage out to sea gone wrong. Meticulously crafted cutscenes with excellent voice over work by Newgrounds contributor Will Stamper wrap the game in a wonderful atmosphere. These scenes may be the best part of the game.
The first thing that must be talked about in regards to the gameplay are the controls. Platforming games live and die by their controls, and this game soars above many other recently released titles in the genre. The game is tight and responsive, making the precision required to complete the game all the more satisfying. Level design is just what you would expect from a Behemoth game. Creative use of the game’s many different types of blocks used to create the environments leads to some well thought out puzzles and challenges. Don’t feel bad if you need to stop and really think about how to tackle the next puzzle. This is where the game really comes together, in that it combines the fast-paced fun of a platforming game with some tricky sections that force you to stop and take in the environment.
The objective of each level is simple. Collect 3 gems scattered across the level, which opens the exit. Get to the exit, and move on to the next level. The game is built on the standard and well-tested platforming rule set, and for good reason. It works, and it works very well. Each level contains 6 or 7 gems you can collect, as well as a hidden ball of yarn. The gems are used as currency to free your friends who have been enslaved by the monster like cats who run the theater. Saving one of your friends from their prison sentence unlocks their character pieces for customizing your avatar. The yarn is used to purchase new weapons for your character. Generally, getting the 3 gems necessary to finish the level is pretty straightforward, while the extra gems and yarn can be a challenge to find. Some are in plain sight, with no indication as to how to get to them, while others are completely obscured from view by invisible blocks. The game will take a casual platforming fan about 6 hours to complete, but thanks to these extra challenges, the story mode alone has plenty of replay value. The humour from the cutscenes extends to the gameplay, as the announcer makes note of your progress and failure. Both collecting the in game items and your untimely deaths are punctuated with sarcastic lines from the narrator. “Oh, shiny” and “OH MY GOODNESS GRACIOUS” will stick with you long after you’ve completed the game. My only complaint is the limited pool of dialogue that cues when the events happen.
Although you can play the game to its conclusion all on your lonesome, the story mode is best played in cooperative play. The levels are redesigned for co-op, so that teamwork becomes essential to completing the game. While the game is great, and fully featured when your on your own, the level design gets even better when playing with friends on the couch or online. Unlike the solo campaign, where everything is doable on your own, co-op forces players to work together to reach the exit.
Aside from the story mode, BattleBlock Theater brings a competitive mode and a level editor to the table. Arena Mode consists of eight different types of play, along with a community playlist. The classic multiplayer modes, with the usual Behemoth twists, are all here. Capture the Horse has teams riding a horse back to their base, while Muckle brings in the standard deathmatch style of game. Think Super Smash Bros., with more platforming. Colour the World is BattleBlock Theater’s version of Graffiti from the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series, and is great fun in the sandbox The Behemoth has provided for us. Challenge mode has players speed running the levels, trying to outdo each others times. As a speed runner, this mode is great fun, and very intense. All of these modes are playable both off and online with up to 4 players.
The level editor is easy to use and powerful enough to let users create some great levels. This mode, along with the competitive online, will ensure this game’s life long past it’s recent release date. Quick Match mode lets you join any open session, which should help with finding people to play with 6 or so months from now.
If this wasn’t enough to convince you to play this game, you should check out the free trial on the Xbox Live Arcade as soon as possible. Anyone fond of the platforming genre should play this game, and support the company who spent the last 5 years crafting this downloadable piece of goodness. I thought Castle Crashers would be a hard act to follow, but now I’m more worried about what The Behemoth can do to top themselves next time.