Since its release in August of 2008, Castle Crashers has continued to be an incredibly popular title on Xbox Live Arcade. Those who flip through the pages of top rated or most downloaded arcade titles are always likely to see the quirky arcade beat-em-up hanging near the top of the list. Although the title itself is nearly three years old, those who play Castle Crashers can attest to why it remains so dominant in the XBLA as its quirky humor, frantic game play, and focus on multiplayer co-op has led it to be one of the most highly regarded titles in the marketplace. Now The Behemoth looks to add another excellent multiplayer title to its credentials with its upcoming release of BattleBlock Theater.
Although it retains the same humor and charm of its predecessor, BattleBlock Theater is quite a different game from Castle Crashers. While Crashers was an old school arcade beat ‘em up, BBT plays more like a strange take on the classic action-platformer genre. In BBT, up to four players are thrown into a level and it is up to them to reach the stage’s exit. Along the way, players will have to overcome a variety of obstacles and enemies all while picking up power-ups such as jetpacks or angel wings. As the players progress through each stage, they will also be tasked with grabbing gems and balls of yarn in order to get a better grade at the level’s end.
What makes BattleBlock Theater unique is the way players traverse their stages. Most of the levels in BBT are very vertical in design and players will actually use the hazards and enemies to get to areas which may be harder to reach. For example, one obstacle in the game is a red hot block of magma which burns and repels any player who touches it. In one particular level, a series of magma blocks are set up in a formation that ultimately ends up tossing players up to an impossibly high ledge.
While objects such as the magma block may help one progress through a stage, it is really up to the players to cooperate and work together should they want to reach the end of a level. In BattleBlock Theater, each player has a standard melee attack and ranged attack at their disposal, but it is really the “assist” button which will come in most handy. Using the assist ability, players can choose to either help or hinder their friends depending on the circumstance. If a player cannot reach the ledge where another player stands, the one on the ledge can hold “assist” and pull the other player up. The assist ability can also be used to help throw another player across a gap or, should one feel particularly malicious, into a deadly pit of spikes. Since there’s little penalty for one player dying while the rest of the party is alive, these moments of purposeful inconvenience are always worth a chuckle.
In the PAX East exhibition hall, The Behemoth had a booth where multiple classic arcade cabinets were set up with BattleBlock Theater playable on each one. During my time with the game, I managed to play through about a dozen or so levels of BBT with another convention attendee. Just like Castle Crashers, the need for teamwork was an absolute must and things were always slightly frantic. Even after playing it for only about twenty minutes or so, it was clear to see that The Behemoth had managed to craft another excellent multiplayer title. Unfortunately the PAX playable demo only supported up to two of the potential four players, so any sort of true mayhem would have to wait for the final release. Those gamers looking for more multiplayer carnage can expect BattleBlock Theater to be released later this summer.