Glowy red stuff is always bad. Everybody knows that.
So, Hatty Hattington, friend to all, piles a load of friends onto a boat and they set off for an adventure. A mighty storm results in the friends being shipwrecked on what looks like a prison island inhabited by theater-loving prison guard cats. To make matters worse, Hatty Hattington seems to have betrayed his friends and is not working for the evil cats. The player will have to work their way through the various levels, performing for the cats and Hatty’s pleasure, as they attempt to free all of the other friends and escape the island. This is the quirky tale of BattleBlock Theater.
But then, the quirkiness should not come as any surprise as The Behemoth are behind the game. Players will already be used to the quirkiness as found in their previous games, Alien Hominid and the hugely popular Castle Crashers. BattleBlock Theater has been in development for what seems like absolutely ages, but has now finally arrived on XBLA amidst a fanfare of delight from fans of the developers. But does it have what it takes to stand alongside crowd favorites Alien Hominid and Castle Crashers?
From the very first words uttered by the dry-humoured narrator, who just keeps babbling nonsense throughout the game, the chuckle-worthy story and delightful presentation will pull you into the game. Both the humour and the presentation may be familiar to players of previous The Behemoth games, but in BattleBlock Theater it is taken to another level and polished to within an inch of its block-filled life. BattleBlock Theater looks great and is hilarious, but that is only the beginning of what the player has in store.
With nearly 100 levels in the campaign, playing through it to completion will require a hefty investment of time. This is not because the levels are long, as they generally only last a few minutes each. But rather this comes down to how difficult the game actually is, and how many things there are to collect in each level.
The levels are made up of different types of blocks and the player only has to collect three gems and get to the exit to finish a level. Doing so will give the player a rank and an encouraging comment from the narrator. However, to get a true comment of praise and a decent rank, the player will have to find as many as nine gems in the level, and a ball of yarn, and complete the level within a very short time. Add to this the fact that the levels become difficult very quickly, and you will be spending much of your time going back through levels again and again.
The amazing thing is that this never really gets frustrating. I don’t know if it is the humour, the brilliant level design, or the fact that the game makes you feel like a hero for doing well, but replaying levels never reaches the point when you want to start throwing the controller. There are a few times when a death feels cheap, but they are few and far between. Most of the time, when you dies in a level, it leaves you thinking “okay, I am stupid for even trying that”, and then you just start again.
As the player progresses, the different types of blocks that make up the levels increase, adding new elements to challenge the player. They will find themselves jumping from block to block, avoiding spikes, water or other hazards, sliding on ice, bouncing on fire, sailing in a little boat, running past lasers and fighting the occasional ball-throwing cat. There are a lot of different aspects to BattleBlock Theater, but the player is slowly introduced to them so they don’t overwhelm and just add to the variety.
The player gets to create and customise their character at the beginning of the game, with a choice of heads, colour and weapon, and more are unlocked through playing the game. Anyone with a Castle Crashers or Alien Hominid save on their system will be treated to extra themed customisation. The controls are responsive and easy to use, although I would say that the hitting/pushing of enemies/friends action, which is so important to the multiplayer game, seems a bit delayed, but it is nothing that can’t be adjusted to.
And it is the awesome multiplayer that will bring players back again and again. The single player campaign is essential in that it allows the player to unlock new weapons for use in multiplayer, so it is advisable to work through as much as possible first. But once the player is suitably kitted out, jumping into the hilarious action of the multiplayer modes is highly recommended.
With a variety of different maps and multiple modes, there is something for everyone in the multiplayer options. That is, something for everyone who enjoys absolute chaos. Whether you are racing through the levels, trying to capture a horse, carrying a ball into an opponents goal, or just changing the colour of the world, nothing is as satisfying as the simple action of pushing an opponent onto some spikes. The modes are plenty and the fun is absolutely crazy. It is essentially a party mode, but the sort of party mode that will end up with players rolling around on the floor.
So that is a fairly extensive single player game, and a packed multiplayer mode. Surely there can’t be any more? Well, there’s only a level editor as well, allowing players to create their own levels and challenge others to play them. Although the editor is relatively simple, his type of user-generated content will ensure that there is always something new to do in BattleBlock Theater.
There is a substantial difference between the single and multiplayer games, with one requiring speed and planning, and the other needing a sense of fun and, preferably, a mean streak. Both are brilliant and the inclusion of a level editor means new content will keep on coming. That is a lot of game for 1200 MSPoints, and is well recommended. So, glowy red stuff is always bad. Everybody knows that. Everybody should also know now that The Behemoth make damn good videogames.