BattleBlock Theater made its debut in 2013, where it was released on the Xbox Live Marketplace. Finally coming to the PC in 2014, nothing has really been added to the core formula. However, the presentation is still wacky and irreverent; the platforming remains fun, and the level-editor is just as approachable as ever. Combine this with Steam Workshop integration, and you have a cute platformer that will keep you and your friends entertained for quite sometime.
Hatty Hattington, glorious leader and “best friend to one and all”, leads a crew of mates with humourously-shaped heads aboard the SS Friendship. That’s right - a ship, filled with friends. Friendship. Even after this very first, very blunt joke, it becomes almost unsurprisingly obvious that Castle Crashers masterminds The Behemoth are behind 2D puzzle-platformer BattleBlock Theatre, as they serve up some familiar slapstick-♥♥♥-tongue-in-cheek banter the way they know best: via garish and whimsical characters, button bashing brilliance, and diarrhea-infused humour.
After a tumultuous voyage across the ocean, the SS Friendship runs aground on a mysterious uncharted island run by evil cats. Brought to life by the amazing narration of Will Stamper, we learn that the peninsula is controlled by a colony of nasty prison-keeping cats, hellbent on abducting the ship’s remaining crew, and pitting them against a series of twisted challenges for their amusement within a makeshift theatre. Placing their trust in Hatty to save the day, the crew are amazed to discover he has flipped allegiances, but do become inherently suspicious of the evil-looking, yet entirely stylish, glowing red tophat he has forcibly acquired since crash landing on the island.
This rather bizarre setup paves way for the hundreds of levels, which make up the majority of the game. The theater motif finds its way into the game’s layout as well; worlds (which are referred to as acts) are composed of nine or so individual levels (stages), and each world ends with a ‘finale’ level. Each level plays out on a theater stage, with catlike silhouettes creeping in the foreground, standing in for a ‘virtual’ audience. It’s all window dressing, sure, but this attention to detail and unwavering dedication to keep the player engaged is what makes BattleBlock Theater stand out from the rest of the platforming pack.
It’s ironic given how creative the setup is that the actual gameplay is simple, but what BattleBlock Theater might lack in novel mechanics and flashy gameplay is made up for with tight controls and excellent level design. Every level is laid out on what is essentially a grid, with various block types making up the floors and walls you maneuver your little avatar on. Some blocks might launch the character into the air or explode after a second or two, while others allow them to climb up or slide down walls. It’s actually quite impressive how much level variety the developers have managed to curate with a fairly limited set of tools, but the game’s nuance and depth becomes more apparent the deeper into the campaign you get.
A mere triplicate of gems are required to unlock the exit in each level, but there tends to be a minimum of six in the stage. Plus a roll of yarn, which can be traded with corrupt feline guards in exchange for special weapons. These are handy for dispensing with roaming enemies that lurk in certain portions of some stages, but some also have additional uses like the gun which fires a sticky pellet that can provide you with an additional, temporary platform. One of the PC version’s tweaks is the ability to carry a pair of these weapons and switch between them.
If you want to get the elusive A+ grade and all of Stamper’s praise, it’s also necessary to finish each stage within a time limit. Early on, this happens practically by default, but (if you’re anything like me) you’ll quite rapidly turn into the school kid who knows he’s smart but feels like just coasting along on A’s and the occasional B rather than putting in the extra effort. If you’ve got the supple reflexes necessary for completing all of the Encore stages with an A+, then I salute you. If you can do it on Insane Mode (which removes all checkpoints, meaning any death returns you to the start of a stage) then you may very well be a witch of some kind.
Your incentive for hunting down more gems is that they can be exchanged for one of BattleBlock Theater’s hundreds of prisoner heads. The heads come in all shapes and forms, so if you hoard enough gems the start of every level can be an identity crisis of your own making.
BattleBlock Theater wouldn’t feel right if you weren’t able to tackle the game with a friend by your side, and The Behemoth hasn’t forgotten its Castle Crashers roots. Playing the campaign solo works perfectly fine, but BattleBlock was designed with co-op in mind, and it shows. There’s a great sense of urgency and pressure when playing co-op; not only will you have to work together in order to succeed, but collecting every gem and beating par times will require excellent teamwork.
There's good fun to be had in competition, too. Up to four players can duke it out in a handful of match types, both in free-for-all or in teams. Standard modes like King of the Hill and a basic challenge mode (essentially time attack) are rounded out with more creative ones, such as ‘Horse’, which tasks you with stealing the opposing team’s horses and riding them back to your own goal. Another favourite of mine was ‘Ball Game’, which is BattleBlock’s minimalist take on basketball. The multiplayer mode is complemented by robust matchmaking options, allowing you to play both online and off, with playlist modes mixing different multiplayer modes into one, well, playlist. To cap things off, there’s a robust level editor at your disposal, which provides you with the exact same toolset that The Behemoth used. Since each level and arena was designed with the same set of block types, it’s remarkably easy to break down your favourite layouts and incorporate them into your own custom design.
In essence, BattleBlock Theatre is not without its frustrating moments, but such is the nature of all puzzle platformers. Any negatives noted here exist, but are slight and surely nothing more than minor blips in what is a very rewarding, very well presented, and very enjoyable and hilariously funny puzzle platformer. As the landscape of these types of games becomes increasingly bigger, it’s nice to see a game strive so hard for innovation. And in doing so can make the player feel like the cat who got the cream. Perhaps I should leave the jokes to The Behemoth experts....http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=384796536
A Must Play
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