BattleBlock Theater is an updated port of the XBLA version released on Xbox 360 in early 2013. The "Steam version" (as it likes to call itself) adds a wealth of Steamworks features, possibly the most of any game released so far, as well as a few gameplay and visual tweaks. These Steamworks features include Workshop for creating, sharing and downloading user-created levels, Inventory support for item trading, online multiplayer and SteamOS support just to name a few.
The game comes from The Behemoth, who you may remember as being credited with Alien Hominid (as far as I am aware, the first example of a Newgrounds Flash game making a leap to a commercial gaming console) and more recently with Castle Crashers. Two well-received games under their belt and you’ll be happy to know that you can count BattleBlock Theater as their third.
You control a miniature Pillsbury Doughboy lookalike, who along with his friends have crashed their “Friend-Ship” onto a mysterious island. Taken prisoner by a legion of insane cats inside a derelict theatre, you are made to run the various obstacle courses (formed of various blocks) and collect gems as you go, purely for their amusement.
During the story mode, your goal is to run through 2D platforming stages, collecting any gems and balls of yarn you see as you go. Not only do these collectables contribute to your overall ranking and score for a stage, you can also spend them in the theatre gift shop. Spending gems will free your captive friends (and allow you to play as them) and the yarn, which is usually the trickiest item to find, can be spent on new weapons. Fitting with the crazy theme the game has going for it, weapons range from guns that fire top-hats, to marching frog dancers that explode. Both weapons and unlocked characters can be traded either in-game or through Steam’s own trading system.
Your character comes equipped with the standard platforming skills. They can perform double-jumps, duck and slide to avoid unpleasant things happening to their head and a basic set of melee attacks for the odd occasion where a villainous feline blocks your path.
As you progress, the stages become increasingly difficult and complex. The blocks you run and jump over may help you get from start to finish, but not all of them are helpful. Block with spikes, blocks of water (you can’t swim!) and even blocks that fire lazer beams will become more and more numerous as you advance through the 8 chapters the game offers, with 13 stages in each.
The puzzles also increase in their level of dastardliness, requiring some extra precise jumps, timings for triggering certain switches that can open new paths or create bridges and some time-trial stages where time is certainly not on your side.
The story is narrated by the absolutely wonderful voice of Will Stamper who manages to synergise his unique energy with the quirky and slightly demented theme the game has on display perfectly. Add to this that the majority of the spoken dialogue is exceptionally funny, it works wonders to break up the monotony of what would otherwise be a rather mundane platformer.
The graphics are vivid and colourful, the animations fluid and adorable, capturing The Behemoth’s trademark style that is in itself a thumbs-up to the Flash games of yesteryear. Despite the trailer claiming near infinite FPS and resolution support (made in satire of the “PC master race” mostly), the game is locked to 60FPS and does not scale to non-standard resolutions such as ultra-widescreen displays… I am also guessing you shouldn’t take the “Oculus Rift support” seriously either.
The audio mixes bouncy sound effects with a great soundtrack, with Will Stamper lending his vocals to a couple of the song “lyrics” for added hilarity. These are usually limited to the ends of chapters and bonus stages, so as not to overdo it.
The campaign alone is rather lengthy, but being able to replay stages to get a better ranking, find missing treasures and unlock more goodies really adds to the replayability. To top it all off, there are plenty of great user-created levels to download and a comprehensive level editing suite included, as well as a special event list of downloadable levels released every Friday with a unique unlockable friend as a reward. There are also a heap of multiplayer modes, both competitive and co-op for up to 4 players. These range from classic “king of the hill” and “capture the flag” modes, to races and even basketball. Some fiddling with your firewall may be required to get the multiplayer working, though.
BattleBlock Theater delivers a fantastic package of content that is both highly polished, well-paced and with enough variety to keep you coming back even when the main game is done and dusted. With its delightful audio/visual aesthetic and solid controls on both gamepad and keyboard, this is a platformer that anyone can enjoy.
~Great presentation and consistently funny
~Amazing value for the price
~Well-balanced difficulty, suitable for all skill levels
~Incredible number of Steam features supported
~Developers still actively supporting the game
~Multiplayer connectivity can be fiddly on certain routers and firewalls
~Can’t rebind controller buttons (can rebind keyboard keys, though)