Hands On With BattleBlock Theater: Competitive Platforming Is A Beautiful Thing

The problem with creating an awesome game is dealing with the expectations for a follow-up.   After the breakaway success of Castle Crashers, the wait to see how The Behemoth would try to match that wonderful game is almost over.  In anticipation of the April 3rd release date of their newest game BattleBlock Theater, we go hands-on with the title to see if lightning can strike twice.

The first thing you will notice is The Behemoth’s signature style of humor, as it is evident from the get-go.  An amusing narrator sets up the ridiculous premise from the start:  Your ship has crashed on an island inhabited by crazy felines, and they are making you battle it out for their pleasure.  To do that, you’ll be platforming your way through hundreds of levels, preferably with a friend (or three) by your side.  This game definitely does not skimp on the content.  In addition to the insane amount of campaign missions, your character can be outfitted with dozens of different weapons and hundreds of different heads, some of which are quite hilarious.

It’s…. beautiful.

The gameplay itself is a drastic departure from Castle Crashers.  It is a no-frills platformer at heart, and I was reminded of Rayman Origins more than a couple times while playing it.  The controls are tight, sharp-eyed gamers will find numerous hidden areas and if you want to push your co-op buddy down a hole, there isn’t a thing in the world that’s going to stop you.  Thankfully, player respawns are generous, so nobody should get too mad at you.

Each regular stage plays out basically the same:  Get a handful of gems and make it to the exit.  The catch is that each stage has more gems than you actually need, so completionists will have plenty to look for.  In addition to opening up the exits, these gems are also your currency for buying new skins, which is surprisingly addicting.  I always got a kick out of watching my brand new characters come streaming out of the vending machine after a particularly nice haul of gems.

Boss battles switch the formula a bit by changing the rules of the game.  In the one I played, the gems are removed and I had to do my best just to keep up with the swift-moving boss.  Again, the echo of the Treasure Chest levels from Rayman was hard to ignore, but it didn’t make it any less fun.  After (or before if you’re anxious) beating the lengthy campaign, a diverse level editor is available to mess around with.  I don’t have the necessary creative skills to do anything cool with it, but it is intuitive and simple, so the community at large should have no trouble creating awesome stages.

Dan Paladin’s art style is unmistakable.

Rounding out the experience is the competitive multiplayer, which is much more fleshed out than Castle Crasher’s bare-bones offerings.  Of the eight available game modes, my favorite was Color the World.  In this mode, you are tasked with coloring the most blocks before the timer runs out.  It’s a variation of a mode we’ve seen dozens of times before, but the frenetic platforming action keeps the pace feverish.  The fact that all this can be done with four players on a single screen is just icing on the cake.

I like the fact that BattleBlock Theater captures the spirit of The Behomth perfectly, yet doesn’t feel like a reskinned version of Castle Crashers.  If nothing else, I admire them for taking the chance on something completely new.   While it may not have hooked me right off the bat like that title, I only became more impressed with it the more I played it, and the easily digestible multiplayer action will make it a great party game.  Whether or not is has the massive replayability or ridiculous success as its predecessor…that remains to be seen.

All in all, it seems the Behemoth isn’t content with resting on their laurels.  The work they have put into BattleBlock Theater is impressive, now we just have a couple short weeks until we see if it pays off.