Games developed by The Behemoth don’t come around very often. I remember buying Alien Hominid for the GameCube back in December of 2004, and playing it nonstop for months. Then, after four painstaking years, we were blessed with one of the greatest (and most popular) games on the Xbox Live Arcade: Castle Crashers. I could write pages upon pages on how amazing The Behemoth’s second outing is, but odds are you’ve played the game and share my sentiments. If you haven’t, then it’s time to invest in some Microsoft Points. Point being, I haven’t been disappointed by a single game created by these developers. And with their most recent release BattleBlock Theater, I’m elated to say that The Behemoth is three for three.
Platforms: Xbox 360
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: The Behemoth
Genre: Blood Pressure Raiser Puzzle-Platformer
Release Date: April 3, 2013
ESRB Rating: Teen
The story in BattleBlock Theater is a sad, yet strangely hilarious tale: socialite Hatty Hattington is perhaps the best friend one could have. He is a kind, generous soul, who takes much joy in spending time with those he loves. One day, Hatty takes his cavalcade of compadres on his luxurious yacht for a relaxing journey at sea. And, like any three-hour tour, Mother Nature decides to put a quick end to the festivities.
Having been shipwrecked on a strange island (for that matter, aren’t all shipwreckable islands strange?), Hatty and his friends are quickly taken captive by the denizens of the island: cats. Mean cats. Mean, nasty, cats. Horrible cats, who take sick pleasure in forcing their prisoners into a theater-turned-prison, where they navigate treacherous courses trying to find gems and exit with their body still intact. And to make matters worse, they’ve placed an evil, glowing hat upon Hatty Hattington, making him their evil leader. You know that scene in Temple of Doom where Indy is forced to drink that weird juice and became a slave to Mola Ram? Think of it like that. But, you know, with cats. Your duty in the game as Hatty’s friend/prisoner is to navigate these obstacle courses, find gems, liberate your companions, and ultimately, free Hatty from the evil felines.
If only it were that easy.
BattleBlock Theater contains eight chapters, with nine initial stages each. When you complete those nine stages and then the final stage, you unlock three encore stages. While making a mad dash for the exit, your quest is hindered by many deadly impediments. Acid lakes, buzz saws, homing-missile-launching robots, and warrior cats are constant reminders that this is no walk in the park. When you die – and don’t kid yourself, you will die a lot – you will find yourself wanting to chuck your controller at the wall. The levels in BattleBlock Theater get progressively harder, and towards the end you’re really pushing the limits of what you’re capable of, as well as your sanity. But don’t fret – with a little trial and error, you too will find your way to the end of the level, and get that wonderful feeling that you’ve truly accomplished something. While the regular stages are challenging enough, the final stage in each chapter really gets your fingers twitching. Not only are you tasked with collecting the required gems, but there is an added countdown clock, which adds another layer of urgency to an already intense experience.
Each stage is its own course, where you need to collect three gems in order to open the exit. But you don’t have to stop there. There are a lot more than three gems available in each stage. In addition, there is also a secret ball of yarn that is especially difficult to obtain. And if that weren’t enough, there’s also secret areas littered (get it?) about, which can earn you even MORE gems! You may be asking, “Why would I need all these gems?” Well, reader, you use said gems to pay off the guard cats in order to release prisoners. Once released, their head can be selected for your main character. And boy, oh boy, are there a lot of heads. So many heads, it would make your head spin – but there’s already a head sporting a spinning propeller, so you’re set in that regard, too.
The hidden balls of yarn are used to purchase weapons, which range from a dart gun to a vacuum to a Ken Masters-inspired fireball. You use these weapons to defeat the warrior cats who try their best to kill you with their own weapons. Think timing your jumps across disappearing blocks that hover above spikes is difficult? Now try it while a cat is chucking grenades at you. Chaotic is an understatement.
When it comes to video games, I’m a big sucker for two things: 2D hand-drawn graphics and smooth animation. Luckily, this game shines at both. The graphics are detailed, colorful and inviting, and the animation is so fluid that you won’t mind being blown up, as you’ll get as much enjoyment seeing your body parts floating down like pieces of paper.
One of the things The Behemoth excels at is its character creation. Alien Hominid and the Knights are instantly recognizable, and adored by gamers everywhere. Just ask these guys. While Hatty and his gang of captives aren’t as memorable as the aforementioned, there is one character that really makes this game shine: the narrator. I really can’t say enough good things about the writing and the voice acting in this game. The narrator is absolutely hilarious, and if you don’t mind some juvenile poop-related humor, you’ll end up dying in the game due to your own laughter causing a distraction. I would love to see more of this narrator in future games. Make it happen, Behemoth!
The music is also top-notch. I’m actually listening to the soundtrack as I write this review; which is a first for me. The up-tempo, toe-tapping music suits the nature of this game quite nicely. I believe a song from Alien Hominid was re-used, but it’s a great song so I’m not complaining. Two songs ultimately stand out for me: the secret stage song and the end credits song, Buckle Your Pants. I enjoy these songs so much that the secret stage song is now my new ringtone, courtesy of Behemoth. Thanks, guys!
The fun doesn’t end after you finish the levels – heavens no! If you wish to really push yourself, there are tons of heads to purchase, and striving to earn A++ scores across all levels will test your skills (and your patience) like no other. If you choose to be the sadist instead of the masochist, BattleBlock Theater also features a level creator mode, where other gamers can play your uploaded twisted machinations, as you sit back with an evil smile, slowly tapping your fingertips together as your levels create the same blistering fury that you yourself felt earlier in the game. At least that’s how it played out for me.
Furthermore, the game also features a pretty hefty multiplayer mode, available both locally and online. The competitive modes feature some versus staples: King of the Hill, Grab the Gold, Deathmatch, and Time Trials are about as expected. However, there are very creative modes as well: you battle against other players in a basketball-style game, race square horses, and try to run away with another player’s soul. Add that to the fact that the above-mentioned editor mode can also be used to create multiplayer maps and you’ll never get bored.
Without a doubt, my favorite multiplayer mode is the cooperative mode. Warpzoned Editor-in-Chief John Scalzo and I played the game in online co-op mode, and I feel that this is where the most fun truly lies. Trying to figure out how to work together to beat a level is a mixture of emotions: confusion, frustration, humor, and satisfaction. The same trial-and-error feel of the rest of the game persists here, but when you figure out how to get to that out-of-reach ledge, then help pull your buddy up the ledge and both of you hit the exit, you get a strong sense of camaraderie that few co-op games truly provide. If you play the game, I strongly suggest finding someone to tackle the levels with you.
The only real issue I have with BattleBlock Theater is the combat. While the weapons are fun, you will only really want to use the fireball or the exploding paper airplane. In addition, when you get into close combat with some of the cats, your attacks don’t seem to do much. Your enemies also seem to be a bit quicker and get in some cheap hits while you are spamming the attack button, which can ultimately shove you into the same pit of acid you just jumped over. This is a bit of a letdown, especially after seeing how well combat was handled in Castle Crashers.
I can’t believe it’s almost been ten years since I first played Alien Hominid. For that matter, it’s been about five years since Castle Crashers was released. Although the wait between games is excruciating, the final product shows how much love and dedication the team at Behemoth puts into their games. They set out to make a game that is both challenging and fun, and they succeeded in both aspects. If I’m laughing one minute and cursing the next, then still humming the soundtrack days after my last session, then you’ve created a great game. Come onstage, Behemoth, and take a bow – you’ve earned a standing ovation from this gamer.
Review Disclosure: A review copy of BattleBlock Theater was provided by Microsoft Studios for the purposes of this review.