Even Funnier than it is Fun
Castle Crashers is an XBLA title that’s part side-scrolling beat-’em-up, part action RPG, and part interactive comic. The healthy mix of classic arcade mechanics with a heavy dose of irreverent humor makes this a title worth downloading.
The game was developed and published by The Behemoth, known for their Alien Hominid series. The crisp, cartoon-style images, similar to that of Alien Hominid HD, are excellently replicated in Castle Crashers, but with a medieval twist. I’ve started out by speaking about the presentation because it truly is quite superb and sets this game apart from the competition. Players will enjoy the varied and colorful levels, the simple fire and dust effects, the rather mild decapitation animations, and the adorable (yet cool) characters. Additionally, the music is awesome; I loved the varied, upbeat tunes! The musical score is an excellent addition that really adds a lot to the game while remaining unobtrusive. Also, the battle sounds, dopey bosses, and the shrieks from the helpless princesses are priceless.
As far as gameplay goes, you will start off by selecting one of four default knights. However, progressing through the game allows you to unlock other characters and even Alien Hominid itself. Each knight (and character for that matter) is distinguished by both color and its own magical ability: the Green Knight uses acid; the Orange Knight uses fire; the Red Knight uses electricity; and the Blue Knight uses ice. Magical abilities, as well as strength, agility, and defense, are boosted by leveling up and dropping in skill points to make your character more powerful. I liked the fact that each character must be leveled separately; this provides for a lot of replay value. On the downside, you’ll have to take each character through the story from the beginning, as the branching story paths will be locked. However, unlocked weapons and gold totals will be shared by all your characters.
Through the addition of skill points into the magic slot, for example, multiple magic maneuvers will open up, and existing magic will become more devastating. Eventually, your high-level knights will dish out massive magical damage to the increasingly difficult foes throughout the adventure. Consequently, Magic proves to be incredibly important and will likely serve as your go-to maneuver. Thankfully, pulling off magic is easy; simply hold down RT as the magical modifier and press X,Y, or B to perform the magical attack (A is used for magic jumps).
In addition to magic usage, melee combat is a big part of Castle Crashers. As your heroes advance in level, certain button combos will open up for you. These button combinations are easy to use and devastatingly effective. Unfortunately, pulling out your ranged weapon (except while using magic) is fairly ineffective and somewhat frustrating. However, it does knock opponents prone, which can be quite handy during Arena battles (more on them later). Nevertheless, this knockdown feature can get extremely annoying when faced with large groups of archers; sometimes, you’ll get into an almost glitch-like series of impassable, up-down antics. Ranged weapons aside, non-magical combat is both satisfying and challenging.
Castle Crashers also provides players with a lot of weapon collecting, treasure hunting, and Animal Orb capturing goodness. There are loads of weapons to be found and purchased throughout the game. Swords, staves, axes, bows, maces, etc. all perform quite well and have various beneficial and detracting features. Typically, weapons will give your character a bonus or two to certain abilities, while slightly hampering another. The weapons you find will be kept back at the castle where a gaping frog maw is used by the Blacksmith for a shop. Weapons can only be switched out by going back to the frog cave.
There are also a bunch of gold pieces, money bags, gilt trophies, rubies, emeralds, diamonds, etc. to be found. Plus, there are various hidden inventory items and treasure chests that avail themselves to your characters as they progress through the story. All this treasure hunting adds up and is quite addictive. Often, you’ll find yourself backtracking for relatively insignificant gold pieces, as they allow you to purchase new weaponry and potions.
Last among the collectibles, but certainly not least, are the little woodland creatures you’ll find along the way. These little guys are called Animal Orbs and they fall in love with you. Animal Orbs impart various boons to your character and become quite handy as you advance. As such, finding prized orbs becomes a mission in and of itself. Like weapons, Animal Orbs are stored near the blacksmith in a turd-laden barn. It becomes important, especially later in the game and before Arena battles, to switch out your Animal Orbs to get buffs that are more likely to help you with a specific stage or against certain players.
This leads us to the Arena Battles. Arena battles can be played against the CPU, locally with friends, or online. You will be paired with up to three other players and tasked with surviving the gladiatorial bout; the last knight standing wins the event. You can choose to use any of your unlocked characters, weapons, and Animal Orbs. All character stats of your competitors will be displayed on the matching screen, so if you want to challenge yourself or make it easier, you can accordingly select one of your weaker or stronger characters to be sent into the fray. Arena battles are a good way to test your combat prowess and they functioned flawlessly online. Unfortunately, they aren’t particularly rewarding and quickly become dull.
Unlike the smooth online Arena Battles, playing through the adventure online is nearly broken. It is very difficult to ever find a game, and, if you do, you will be thwarted by constant drops and freezing. However, the developers at The Behemoth are aware of the trouble and are hard at work fixing the various issues. Nevertheless, the game, as it was released, is not in working order. It’s a real shame too, because the local multiplayer experience is excellent.
Similarly, the All You Can Quaff mode, which is another local and online multiplayer mode, is a ridiculous tack-on. This “game” has players mash the X and Y buttons in order to chow down on a piece of fruit. Then players tap the A button when prompted to get the next piece. The first player to get through all the fruit and raise their flag wins. This mini-game lasts far too long and is really just garbage. This is one option that should have found the cutting room floor.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the game is hilarious and the level design is outstanding. The title really feels like an interactive comic. There were several times that I laughed out loud with big ole belly laughs. My personal favorites involved animals and bowel movements (notice the plurality). I won’t get into too much detail because I don’t want to ruin it. Suffice it to say, the cartoonish facial expressions throughout the game are captured expertly. Plus, every level, boss, and minion is very distinct and interesting.
Castle Crashers is a great title for those who are looking for a quick romp through a magical world full of off-color humor. The controls are straightforward, the simple cartoon visuals are great, the music is perfect, and the combat is fun. The poorly executed online multiplayer is in bad need of a fix and the Arena and Quaff modes are lame, but the adventure is classic and worth the $15.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.2 Graphics
The cartoonish visuals rock and impart an awesome comic book feel to the title. 4.4 Control
The controls are very simple and can be mastered in a matter of minutes. New combos are easily executed. 4.4 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music and sounds are both great and unobtrusive. 3.3 Play Value
The combat is well executed and the RPG elements are quite manageable. Nevertheless, it is just a beat-’em-up brawler and the online connectivity suffers from serious issues. Thankfully, the great humor and varied levels keep the title interesting throughout. 3.8 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.