Launching this week on Xbox Live, BattleBlock Theater is the latest creation from indie developers, the Behemoth. Their follow-up to Castle Crashers, BattleBlock Theater has been in development for several years. Finally, after being demo’d at multiple gaming conventions, gamers can play at home with one of the biggest arcade releases of the year. Should fans of co-operative platformers check this game out?
The Behemoth, also the developers behind Alien Hominid, have a strong history of bringing old school gameplay into a modern setting, and BattleBlock Theater is no different. At it’s core, BattleBlock Theater is retro-platformer that plays like a twisted update on Lost Vikings and Super Mario Brothers. From the start, BattleBlock Theater blends humorous storytelling with short bursts of puzzle-solving platforming. If that doesn’t have you excited, just keep on reading because this game has a lot going for it.
Gameplay-wise, players will spend hours traversing over 100 stages of 2-D mazes filled with switches, spikes, enemies, and helpers. The controls for BattleBlock Theater are simple but the challenges are increasingly varied. Early in the game, players will use standard platforming techniques like jumps, wall-jumps, double jumps, triggers, catapults, and much more to traverse differing landscapes. As with most platform games, the challenge is identifying the correct pathway to escape death around every corner. Despite having over 100 levels, this game never applies the same pathway twice.
At first, experienced fans of the platform genre should progress through this game quickly. Each level includes three types of collectables to discover (green gems, a ball of yarn, and a golden top hat), and the player’s interest in collecting everything directly affects the speed of completion. If your play style is that of a completionist, the early levels will provide plenty of time for discovery. If you’re like me, you’ll do the minimum to progress but the main goal is to reach the finish line. After blowing past the first four stages, I found that the gameplay challenges increased incrementally. This well-paced learning curve is paramount to the success of this game.
One of the big positives for BattleBlock Theater’s gameplay was that the levels never seem too hard to make me quit. Every level and every puzzle has a solution that rests right at the cusp of what appears possible. For example, there might me a distant ledge next to a floor of deadly spikes. The distance appears impossible to make but with precisely timed double jump, the euphoria of making that ledge is exhilarating. On the surface, this puzzle looks mind-bendingly challenging. In reality, it just takes some creative thinking.
The Behemoth challenges gamers to utilize trial and error to achieve success with only minor punishment (other than death). Unlike recent platform games like Spelunky, BattleBlock Theater has checkpoints to make death only a temporary impediment. Sure, you may get frustrated from a repetitive sequence of deaths, but at least your attempt isn’t punished with a complete restart of the game.
One aspect of this game that I found especially peculiar was that death is almost never caused by enemies. Instead, the developers let the terrain or a player’s poor gameplay choices cause death. While BattleBlock Theater features a plethora of enemies (evil kitty cats), to take on, they impede your progress without crushing you. It’s an interesting take on enemy vs. hero interactions that redirects a player’s frustration to the surrounding traps.
My only complaint about the gameplay is the random nature that enemies interact with the player. On numerous occasions, I found my avatar bumping into an enemy that forced me to restart a level or allowed me to solve a puzzle in an unplanned way. While the traditional puzzle navigation pieces worked almost perfectly, the enemy character interactions are rougher around the edges than they should be. It’s obvious that the Behemoth wants all of the elements of this game to interact naturally, but the unnatural enemy movement makes this game look a bit unpolished.
The storytelling in this title is especially entertaining. As Behemoth proved with Castle Crashers, these developers know how to make a funny and engaging story. Featuring a cast of cutthroat cute characters and obnoxiously silly narrator takes this game a notch above games of a similar ilk. The cut scenes are consistently hilarious and are a generous reward for players progressing past the end of each stage. The developers could easily spin this game off into an animated movie or TV show.
BattleBlock features an extensive co-op campaign that fits in perfectly with the single player campaign. The levels in single player and co-op are identical but single players must use a helper bird (computer controlled A.I.), to traverse the co-operative only puzzles. This design approach is incredibly clever because it makes the co-operative experience similar but not identical to the single-player experience.
Also included with the game is a sandbox-style level creation kit. BattleBlock Theater supports players that want to create their own stages and puzzles. This mode provides hours of replay value and delivers capability just shy of those seen in Little Big Planet. Players can create their own levels and playlists to entertain and challenge the world. Hopefully, as this release grows in stature, we’ll see more updates to make the customization settings even deeper. This will be a fantastic little feature that supports continued gameplay well after players have finished the single player mode.
I had a wonderful time playing BattleBlock Theater and only had some minor quibbles with the gameplay of the enemy AI and some minor control problems. Overall, the game is a fantastic arcade-priced title that delivers on the expectations of fans of the Behemoth. BattleBlock Theater is a great platformer with the perfect amount of challenge and replayability to keep gamers thrilled for months ahead.