Game Review: Battleblock Theater
I’ve come to love The Behemoth as a developer- their games typically play well and feature a wild, crazy sense of humor rather along the lines of Earthworm Jim. Sometimes I can’t help but wonder if the developers are twelve with all the odd gross-out humor in games like Castle Crashers, along with just about everything else The Behemoth has made. It’s not by any stretch of the imagination a bad thing (unless you have a dry, shriveled-up sense of humor), and it’s nice to see it alongside engaging gameplay. The Behemoth has maintained the tradition in their latest game, Battleblock Theater.
To start with, Battleblock Theater is a very aesthetically pleasing game. Visually, it features the cartoony style The Behemoth is used for. The characters are simple, cute, and occasionally disgusting. There are a few basic body types used across the different characters, though they all seem to have the same eyes. They’re all animated quite smoothly- it’s clear that quite a bit of work went into making sure that the appearance of each character matched the aesthetic of the game. The backgrounds themselves are varied and full of life- pay close attention and you’ll notice things going on behind the scenes, though not quite as much as in Castle Crashers. BBT is a good game from a visual standpoint, and it’s clear that a lot of love went into this 2D platformer. It all seems to be presented in some strange prison theater that you and some friends have crash-landed on- you’re putting on some strange show for a strange, sick, and somewhat feline crowd that seems to applaud and cheer at the most inappropriate times.
The game’s presented in a somewhat wild manner- the protagonist/commentator, Hatty, will occasionally make witty remarks about your death, successes, etc. There’s something strange about his manner that I can’t quite name. He’s such an odd, demented creature with a square head and tremendous ego- the short of it is that he’s mad, fun and and makes the game a more interesting experience. I particularly like the way that cutscenes and loading screens are presented as if part of a bizarre puppet show presented by an amateur puppeteer with simple cardboard cutouts of various characters and vehicles held up by popsicle sticks.
The music of BBT is deserving of special mention. It feels just as trippy and crazy (not to mention wonderful) as the rest of the game. I’m not sure how to describe it- sometimes it’s rather techno, other times kind of… I honestly don’t know. All I can tell you is that it does a fantastic job at matching the aesthetic and the feel of the game. Hats off to the musician.
Gameplay-wise, BBT is a pretty decent platformer. Your goal, in each level, is to collect at least three gems and make it to the exit portal. In all honesty, it doesn’t break much new ground- that’s not a bad thing considering how well the game sells itself on a fun aesthetic, and the fact is that it’s good gameplay. Just not particularly new or noteworthy gameplay. Levels were lovingly laid out with secret areas aplenty- if you’re into hunting for stuff, you’ll have a good time playing BBT– as there’s a ball of yarn hidden in some less-than-convenient place in each level.
The game is relatively co-op oriented- it’s fun to play alone, but with friends you really can expect some good laughs- each level of the campaign, when played with in co-op, is well put together to require you to work with your partner. I appreciate the fact that The Behemoth went out of their way to provide a fresh challenge in co-op instead of just tossing in a co-op mode- it’s carefully crafted, and it really shows. That said, I was a bit annoyed by the fact that I couldn’t pick up where I left off in the single player campaign; unless there’s something I somehow missed, it seems that levels beaten in co-op are treated separately from levels beaten in single-player. This might seem like a non-issue, but imagine for a moment that you’re having a rough time with a level and would like a friend to join you. After sitting through the (hilarious) opening cutscene, you soon realize that you’re going to have to play the game from the beginning to reach the level that kept ripping you in half. It’s not a particularly major problem, but it may be a pain.
Besides playing together in co-op mode, there are also quite a few different competitive modes- using weapons you purchase with the balls of yarn you collect throughout the game’s story mode, you can do battle with a friend on a nice assortment of stages. I’ll admit, I became something of a sore loser in the arena… Best fifty out of ninety? I was addicted to getting thoroughly whooped by my former co-op partner. Getting a weapon from the Gift Shop is something of a dicey process- you get a random weapon. My co-op partner somehow wound up with a wonderful gun that fires bubbles of toxic goo that kill on impact. I had a boomerang, and the rest is history. I blew my yarn balls at the gift shop and eventually got the same weapon. My co-op partner got a fan. A fan that blew the bubbles back in my face.
Battleblock Theater also comes with a pretty neat level-editor. I got the chance to test it out- it’s pretty well designed. You can create a playlist of custom levels and then share them online. While I wasn’t feeling particularly creative as I tried the thing out, I managed to throw together a somewhat masochistically difficult level in a matter of minutes. Testing a level is about as fun as making one, and while I hadn’t really walked into the editor with the intention of staying there for too long, I found myself tweaking my level, adjusting it, trying to balance it out- if designing levels for a platformer sounds like fun to you, you may want to get your hands on this game.
Overall, BBT is an entertaining platformer that’s worth picking up if you happen to appreciate The Behemoth’s nutty aesthetic, you’re a fan of platformers with a strong stomach for silliness, or you’re looking for a game that will leave you loving or hating your friends, depending on how you play. Just for the record, you probably won’t wind up hating them if you go into the arena. I claim no responsibility if you do.