From the creative team responsible for Alien Hominid and Castle Crashers comes BattleBlock Theater, a cooperative and competitive platformer packed with oodles of content.
The Behemoth has developed a distinct style in their previous titles. That same off-beat and hugely entertaining flair is equally present throughout BattleBlock Theater. The animation, music and gameplay is a charming amalgamation of nostalgia and originality. It's platforming at its absolute best. Competitive, cooperative, hilarious - it will test your reactions, grey matter and sense of humour in equal measure.
The story is absolutely barmy. Narrated with goofy enthusiasm and near perfect comic timing, it's a rollercoater of wackiness that's almost impossible not to fall in love with.
Hatty Hattington and a boat load of friends are on a jolly jaunt across the ocean when a terrible storm shipwrecks them on a mysterious island. Hatty tries to lead his friends to safety but upon finding an old abandoned theatre is set upon by sinister giant cats who force a cursed hat upon his head. The evil hat turns Hatty into a villainous theatre master that forces his friends into a series of increasingly deadly performances for the entertainment of their feline oppressors.
Every aspect of BattleBlock Theater is strewn with colourful and cheerful original designs, and fluid animations bring every character to life. References to gaming history are present in both visuals and sound. Somehow reminiscent of classic 16-bit games and totally fresh and funky at the same time, the soundtrack demands to be listened to.
Instead of levels players run, jump and fall through a collection of various ‘scenes'. The objective is to dodge countless death dealing obstacles while collecting enough floating gems to unlock the exit. There's very little guidance as players take on the increasingly challenging stages. Most of the controls are explained in pictorial depictions early on but don't expect any help in solving the game's many puzzles.
Learning by playing is a refreshing change of pace from modern trends to hold the player's hand. Throughout the five hour campaign there's nearly 100 levels in which players will have to use boats, boulders, horses, jetpacks and wings to navigate countless deadly obstructions. To name just a few, we're talking buzz saw, laser beams, heavily armed kitty cats, and aggressive toast. Yes - toast. It sounds dangerous, and it is.
Challenges are wickedly difficult, especially in later levels. Fortunately death is only a momentary irritation, and can actually be quite hilarious. There's a certain acceptance whenever a buzz saw chops you to pieces or a laser renders you a pile of ash; it's always your fault, and you accept that. Checkpoints are generously deposited throughout so rather than a restart you only lose a few seconds of playing. No matter how difficult things get, or how many attempts it takes, it's so much fun that it's difficult to stop trying.
Escaping from one death trap riddled stage is rewarded with more death trap riddled stages. Each one ups the difficulty, the madcap narrator continues to deride your failures and disingenuously praise your success, evil cats keep coming, puzzles get increasingly complicated and platforms harder to reach. Level design is fantastic though, so the challenge never becomes a chore.
Complete an entire scene and the reward is more story. The story is almost worth the price of the game alone. Everybody's favorite narrator reveals more about Hatty, the theatre and those devilish felines, all in his usual sardonic tones. It's impossible not to laugh as the distinct cartoon visuals and the enthusiastic story telling mesh into seamless merriment.
There's an in-game gift shop to visit between stages. Collected gems and yarn are exchanged for new characters and new weapons. There are (almost) countless characters to unlock, these are strictly cosmetic, but each has unique quirky designs that are full of charm. Unlockable weapons include grenades, boomerangs, exploding frogs and deadly paper airplanes. Weapons have different attributes that can make all the difference in overcoming challenges. Only one weapon can be carried at a time, but with a hit of the pause button it's easy to change in the midst of gameplay.
Playing the campaign solo is great fun but for the best experience it's worth playing with a friend. Local and online play are both supported. With two players involved levels are completely reworked to make sure there's plenty of challenge for both participants.
Solving co-op puzzles involves all manner of teamwork. Sometimes the best approach is to hurl a partner to higher ground and wait for them to offer a hand up. Other times a player may need to sacrifice themselves to provide a platform between spikey death traps. Don't worry if neither player is willing to lay down their lives - some of the fun comes from screwing each other over. If a friend annoys you there's plenty of opportunity to shove them towards a grisly demise. Sometimes level objectives are forgotten altogether as players descend into a free-for-all brawl.
A couple of minor issues are present in co-op play. Namely, the camera and the spawning system. When a player dies their respawn seems completely random. When they appear next to their teammate it's fine, but occasionally they can reappear at a checkpoint on the other side of the stage. In moments like this the camera is forced to zoom out so far it's difficult for either player to see what they're doing. Happily co-op play is so enjoyable these issues are easily overlooked.
For competitive players there's a wealth of multiplayer options in The Arena. There's races, ball games, king of the hill, block painting, gold gathering, soul stealing, fights to the death and a fantastic variation of capture the flag involving block-shaped ponies. Every Arena game supports four players and features competitive leaderboards. Matches are short, so players dropping out is less of an issue than in many other multiplayers.
The impressive amount of content doesn't stop there. There's also a very solid level editor to dip into. Easy to use and edit, all manner of stages for every game mode can be created. Challenge friends to play your creations or upload them for the general public. Want to see what other people have come up with? Accessing uploaded stages is easy and some provide plenty of challenge. Should someone create a broken or rubbish level, report it to the moderators and down mark its score.
Escaping this twisted theatre of death is the last thing anybody would want to do. A punishing and entertaining platformer that rewards skill and precision, BattleBlock Theater will keep anyone who plays it captivated. There's tons of content to keep coming back for and great multiplayer options. The campaigns later levels may frustrate people who lack the steel for enduring punishment, but even they will find something to enjoy. It really is a game for everyone.
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