Lights, Cats and Action!
Since the debut of Castle Crashers in 2008, The Behemoth had kept a low profile until revealing their next game the following year. It was only going by the code name, (Game 3), but they eventually let the cat out of bag, literally. Officially titled BattleBlock Theater, the game contains lots of cats, prison guard cats to be precise. It might sound wacky, but this is nothing out of the ordinary from Behemoth. Wacky ideas are what make their games so much fun and intriguing. Keeping with the trend of Alien Hominid and Castle Crashers, BattleBlock Theater is a 2D side-scroller with solid platforming. However, it's much different to Behemoth's previous work. Instead of creating another beat-em up, BattleBlock Theater focuses more on puzzle platforming and co-operative play.
The story is ridiculous and bazaar, but it works so well. The game opens with a few hundred or so friends on board a ship, called the S.S. Friendships. They all set out on an adventure, but a storm quickly turns everything upside down. They soon become shipwrecked on a mysterious island, which turns out to be a prison run by bodyguard cats. For the cats own amusement, they force the prisoners to perform dangerous theater performances. The biggest friend of all, Hatty Hattington, also turns against his friends due to a mystical hat. This quickly makes him the leader of BattleBlock Theater. The bazaar story is all told with cardboard cutouts. The humour side comes from the narrator, who tells the story and throws in some witty comments and gags for good measure.
The prison is cleverly used as the main hub. Various worlds are filled with cell doors that lead to the many levels. Each world contains 12 levels, plus a Boss level. The objective to the game is simple. Make your way to the top of the level, collecting enough gems to unlock the exit. You only need three gems to finish the level, but a total of seven gems can be achieved if you wish to earn completion for that level. You can also earn A++ for beating it in a fast time. Gems are not only useful for advancing the levels, but they also act as in-game currency. Collecting enough gems allows you to spend them on faces for your character at a Gift Shop. This is simply a filler that allows you to personalize your character. They don't do anything to combat, but are a nice distraction that many will adore. Collecting Balls of Yarn, on the other hand, can change the gameplay. These can be used to bribe cats into giving you bazaar weapons. For example. A vacuum can pull enemies and objects towards you. One of my favourites is the frog, which can be unleashed to attack nearby enemies. There's a nice variety of weapons, but it's a shame you cannot choose which to buy. Instead, it's more of a pot luck situation, with them unlocking in sequence.
Each of the levels consist of blocks. Many of them vary and are used for different tasks. Whether it's the volcanic blocks for bouncing you up to high surfaces, or cloud blocks that can only be jumped on from bellow. There's many varied blocks that will require some thinking. It's not extremely hard puzzle platforming, but there's moments when you will need to plan your next approach. Puzzles are at their best when playing the game with a friend. The solo campaign is still a fun experience, but co-op is the biggest highlight. Working together is great solid fun, and some of the best co-operative gameplay I've seen in a side-scroller. It's completely unique, and makes great use of team work. Whether it's using a paper boat to travel across water, activating a path, or simply throwing your partner across to unreachable surfaces. Power-ups can also be collected momentarily, requiring you to work alone. From Jet packs that can fly you to higher ground, or even a set of wings for flying past dangerous obstacles.
The puzzles are never too challenging, but there's plenty of hazards to make the levels tougher. The game begins with dangerous obstacles, like water and spikes. As you progress, you will be introduced to laser beams and murderous foes. It makes the levels harder, but it can be frustrating at times. Enemies will chase you and can be very unpredictable. Defeating them can also be troublesome, mainly due to the combat lacking in precision. Jumping is solid, but fighting off enemies isn't as much. There's no real combat system, so button mashing your enemies is hit and miss. Combat is only a small portion, thankfully. Most of your time will be spent jumping across blocks, collecting, and solving the various puzzles.
If you still crave more BattleBlock goodness after it's solo and co-op campaign, there's plenty more content to keep you interested. There's a well designed Level editor that allows you create your own blocked challenging levels. Or if you wish to fight against your friends, you can compete in short mini games. There's Ball Game, which is simply getting a ball in the basket, Soul Snatcher, which has you stealing souls and running away, and many more.
BattleBlock Theater is The Behemoth's most ambitious XBLA title yet. Whilst it may not be as solid in combat as their past title, Castle Crashers, the main focus here is solid puzzle platforming. Thankfully, it does it very well, and it's packed with plenty of humour and content to keep you entertained for many hours.