Battleblock Theater is not Castle Crashers. I know that is a hard fact to swallow but it just isn’t in the same genre or league of Castle Crashers, Still, Battleblock Theater can stand up as its own game with both major flaws and upsides to be found. Battleblock plays out like a more complex version of Nin2Jump. Your character will jump around blocks collecting the 6-9 gems per level, grab the semi-harder-to-find yarn and exit the stage. Each stage has different kind of obstacles that are slowly introduced like pink goop blocks, which slow you down when walking on them but allow wall jumping. A true compliment is that the game has a lot of puzzle types to take on from switches, jumping, teleporting and timer puzzles to name a few. While no levels are memorable in this game (they all look the same), you will be doing things differently from stage to stage. The first five worlds felt a bit sluggish on the mental struggle and I didn’t have to stop to think out a puzzle until World 6. It was at that point I finally had to stop blindly running into death and think about what my move was going to be. It isn’t a surprise to me that upon finishing the game I was more satisfied with Worlds 6, 7 and 8 for this reason.
Before release, Behemoth teased us about certain prisoners in this mysterious game they’ve been worked on for a few years. Unfortunately, the only real characters in this game are the Narrator, Hatty Hattington, and the mysterious silent cats. The prisoners that you free are just costumes, essentially in the form of circle, square, triangle, or cylinder shaped heads. The heads you can unlock are pretty weird and sweet but without any sort of defined role. Like a colored knight that is defined with a different skillset, these prisoners are interchangeable and it’s easy to become detached playing the game.
The only true upside of this is the fantastic cutscenes voiced by the mysterious Narrator. These cutscenes tell our story, provide a background of what is going on, and keep the laughs rolling at you. Unfortunately, these minute long cut scenes only happen after worlds and require you to slug through the game’s bland puzzle levels to access them. Each world consists of 9 regular levels and three time trial levels that serve as the ‘boss stages’. These timed levels are simply just normal levels with a two minute timer and usually less to collect.
The Co-op in this game is dedicated to two players and the levels are the almost exactly the same as the single player. That is, except for the small change of stages losing certain platforms forcing you to throw your buddy over a spike pit or pull your friend up a cliff too high up for jumping. Most of the time you’ll end up killing each other as these small stages weren’t truly built to handle two people at once. Also the checkpoint system is completely broken in multiplayer. In singleplayer you can guarantee you will hit a checkpoint and respawn there; in multiplayer you might spawn there or at a previous checkpoint or right next to your buddy. You can easily break the game by spawning your friend past the puzzle one of you just cleared. This won’t work in insane mode, which simply lacks checkpoints and you know is hard as hell.
To help you in the stages, you can equip yourself with weapons when choosing your favorite head to wear. Some weapons, like the acid ball and plunger, can be used as weapons but also as platforms. Others like the bouncing ball won’t prove terribly useful in the game. The weapons thankfully have enough variety that you can easily find what works for you. I’m unsure if it’s intentional but the shock ball can be used against a wall to launch you very high in the air, allowing the player to fully break levels.
The game also supports an online mode that offers 2V2 teamed co-op. The modes available range from simply fighting to collecting coins or capturing a pig (flag). There is enough variety but the community tends to stick towards fighting and playing custom levels online. These levels can be made from the very easy to use level editor that allows players to make their own whole chapters in a playlist. These levels can be like the regular stages from the main game or one of the arena modes. If this catches on it could be the answer to longterm play of Battleblock Theater, if players would leave the gift shop and stop trading, of course.
The soundtrack is unfortunately not a high point. The ‘boss level’ theme is catchy and energetic but other levels are quite literally just belching. The secret level is just a bunch of flatulance and it gets annoying pretty quickly. The other songs that play are interchangeable like the levels themselves and don’t stick out. What does stick out is the credits song, it;s a doozy.
Battleblock Theater is far from bad but far from perfect. Its place is somewhere in the middle, offering moments of brilliance, remaining potential with downloadable content, and a game that is still satisfactory. As the Xbox Live Arcade will close its doors likely this year or next it will likely be one of the better titles to play as the sun sets. Just don’t expect Castle Crashers and you should be good.
What We Loved
The story cutscenes are comedy gold
Online play and the level editor
What We Hated
None of the stages were memorable
The soundtrack was forgettable