BattleBlock Theater represents something of a torrid fling for me, which might sound unnatural and more than a little creepy, but is metaphorically apt. It was one of the few impulse buys I’ve ever made on Xbox Live, based primarily on the strength of its pretty damn hilarious trailer.
Once I played the trial game, I was instantly sold. Not only did the game include all the funny “Whaaaaa….??” moments I remembered from Castle Crashers, in a way that is signature Behemoth, but my mind was made up for me during the opening cinematic, seeing that the sense of humor in the game was really just hinted at in the trailer. Between the writing, animation, and Will Stamper’s narration, there was no way I wasn’t buying this game! For those that haven’t seen it; if this doesn’t convince you to go out there and get the game NOW, nothing will:
Seriously, Will Stamper is to BattleBlock Theater what Logan Cunningham was to Supergiant’s Bastion, only where one game presented stoic poetics, the other presents insane…insanity…? Anyway, all this, and I hadn’t even gotten to the actual platforming yet!
On the gameplay front, BattleBlock Theater performs as advertised. The Behemoth has put together a ton of levels, which get surprisingly challenging later on. Your avatar – one of Hattie’s “Friends” that has evaded capture – runs, jumps, slides and generally gets flung about through each level, collecting gems to unlock each stage’s exit. Three gems will let you advance to the next stage (provided you can make it to the exit transporter), but collect all hidden treasures and the once-per-stage ball of yarn (!?) within a given time limit and a minimum of deaths for a top rating. Straightforward enough – takes all of twenty seconds to learn and acclimate to, but the remainder of the game to perfect.
Each level consists of nine normal stages, plus a timed double-shot “boss” stage – there’s no enemy to beat here, only the clock and some devious puzzles. Three separate, optional time trial stages are also accessible in each level, though to be honest I only completed the first half-dozen or so of these. Gotta leave something to come back to…
Speaking of which, there is a lot to love if you like maximum replay bang for your buck! The entire game can be played alone or with a friend – the icing on the cake here is that, in co-op mode, each stage has been slightly altered to require both players to work together to advance. I commend The Behemoth for having the required forethought in planning out each stage to design two fairly similar versions accommodating a possible second player. More than that: Kudos to the designers for carrying out such a meticulous task and sticking with it!
Immediately upon downloading the full game, my brothers and I played through the first two levels cooperatively; we had an absolute blast! I feel that this is the way the game is best enjoyed: In the company of others, laughing your heads off as you push each other into spike pits or hold out your hand invitingly to pull the other player to safety, then pull it back in the last moment and watching him meet a watery end drowning in water. As much as helping each other out is required to be successful, there are myriad ways to sabotage one another for a good laugh. Needless to say, finding hidden treasure and achieving speedy run-through times was the last thing on our minds that night!
Subsequently, I’ve gone back and completed a full solo playthrough, as well as complete the co-op campaign with my son riding shotgun. Rest assured, the gems accrued during my playtime have not gone to waste – there are so many collective avatars to unlock, that even after 2+ playthroughs, I still have less than half of all collectibles unlocked. That’s not to mention the special avatars that are acquired by meeting special requirements, such as a knight for also owning Castle Crashers. I can safely say that I will NEVER see it all!
Now, I haven’t spent any time at all even mentioning the multiplayer modes or the level editor, which essentially puts the entire game’s toolbox at your creatively evil fingertips. But designing levels just isn’t for me, and I rarely play multiplayer matches – these aren’t the real comic draw of the game anyway. (My son is the level creator in the family – he’s the one that builds his own tracks and levels in games like this and Trials Evolution.) But I appreciate the fact that you can freely download levels created by BattleBlock Theater’s user base – this game literally has the potential for unlimited replay value.
I think now that I’ve seen most of what there is to see in the built-in campaigns, BattleBlock Theater will be one of those games that may still occasionally get some play during get-togethers with multiple people looking for a good laugh. And so, over time, I’ll continuously unlock a bit more of what’s still left. Perhaps I’ll one day go back just to acquire more goodies, for completeness’ sake. But for now, I can safely and with finality say that The Behemoth has once again given me more than my money’s worth!