BattleBlock Theater

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BattleBlock Theater
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BattleBlock Theater
Action
Xbox Live Arcade
Review based on Xbox Live Arcade version
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer:
The Behemoth
Release Date: April 3rd, 2013
When it comes to gaming, one of the most well known names out there right now is The Behemoth. The company had an underground smash hit with Alien Hominid on the GameCube, which got the HD treatment for the Xbox Live Arcade later on. They then issued their wildly popular Castle Crashers title as part of the Summer of Arcade initiative, and have since been working on their next big title, BattleBlock Theater. With the signature hand drawn artwork on display, many fans (including myself) couldn’t wait for the end result, still riding the high of their previous outting. But, did The Behemoth score big with this new venture, or is it one many will be sweeping under the rug?

Well, the audio to this title is actually really interesting, and while nothing special, gives BattleBlock Theater that cheeky Behemoth signature. The story is advanced through carboard cut outs with someone narrating it as if he were reading a children’s book aloud, doing a slight accent while being melodramatic that perfectly suits the atmosphere, making you care a bit about the character you play as due to the subtle emotion involved. The only issue here is when he comments on your ingame progress, repeating himself by the time you’re half way through stage two. The sound effects, however, sound crisp, and are handled well to give you enough of a cue when things like laser beams are being activated to help make progressing through each act a little easier.

Finally there’s the music, which is just memorable all around. It usually shifts between fun and upbeat to faster and tense depending on the stage, especially the deeper you get into the game. There’s also some secret rooms you can find that have their own little song, which is simple, but will easily put a smile on your face. Again, the narrator comes into play, but it’s lyrics like “Doo dodo dodo, it’s a secret…” over and over to the rhythm in that cheeky voice that just makes it stay lodged in your skull for days on end, even making your hunt down these stages just to hear these little easter eggs.

The tone that the music sets is captured perfectly by the visuals. The graphics themselves are pretty standard for two-dimensional characters, but in the signature The Behemoth manner. While the stages themselves look nice, most in game enemies, and your character in particular, look rather flat and simple. Some of the creatures, however, look rather nice and even intimidating, while the cats outside of the game arenas look great in their suits and sunglasses. For the most part, the visuals look like a dulled down Spumkovision (think Ren & Stimpy with some incredibly flat and unappealing characters you have to stare at throughout the entire game. The only exceptions are the darker areas like the finale, walking towards the arena from the wings of the set, as well as the start when you leave the wreck and go inside.

Unfortunately, the story is as basic as pretty much everything else. You and your friends are on a boat when a storm comes in, wrecking it on a nearby island. You go in search for your companions, only to watch two cat’s restrain Hatty, your best buddy, the bestest friend of all bestest friends in the whole wide world, and place a hat on him that turns him evil. You’re spotted, taken as a prisoner, and have to run a gambit of mazes in order to earn your freedom, all the while rescuing your friends and other captives. Of course, if you took the story away, or just had a brief wall of text at the start explaining what you just read, it would not impact the gameplay and its impact at all. It’s really there to give you a reason for doing all this, but that reason could be anything from a reality game show approach like Smash T.V., to just trying to find a princess a la Super Mario Bros. and you’d still have the same impact.

The gameplay itself is simply running from start to finish within a large room to collect enough gems to move onto the next act. Each stage is composed of three sets of three acts, a finale stage, and three optional encore levels. All have the same premise, except the finale requires you to beat the clock in order to obtain a key. All the while you have obstacles like sleek cats that shoot things at you or lob land mines your way, giant four legged beasts that tear you and others to shreds, laser beams, cannons that fire red squares of death, and pools of water you instantly drown in. The key is to get all the gems, pick up the ball of yarn hidden in the stage, and exit as fast as possible in order to earn an A++ ranking.

If you can’t tell, the gameplay gets really repetitive. The only thing that kind of saves it is how the difficulty increases the further you get, but even then it’s usually just more lasers, cats, walls, and/or water. Basically, it’s more of the same kind of obstacles, but often in a different outfit. Start at point A, get the gems, grab the yarn, exit point b. Wash, rinse, repeat. The only challenges that may have you stuck are usuaully timing, such as when a cat is lobbing land mines at you with another one in front of you making it hard to pass, especially if standing on ice. That or perhaps timing a laser beam while climbing up a wall hanging over where the beam shoots off after jumping off a block of goo that makes it hard to jump over a small pool of water.

But, there’s plenty of on-line modes you can use to try to bring the fun factor up a little more. Obviously there is the co-op option, both local and on-line, the latter of which can be fun. If you really like the game, you also have the chance to design your own levels and make them available for download, or grab, play, and rate other people’s arenas. There’s also the typical leaderboards so you can see how well you did and earn braging rights with your friends. However, there’s also normal ingame content to unlock, such as hundreds of different heads by rescuing prisoners using the gems you obtain playing story mode, as well as having played the aforementioned Behemoth titles for special heads, and getting new weapons from security guard cats by bribing them with balls of yarn. There’s plenty of extras to keep yourself busy, not to mention achievements that aren’t always difficult, but will take a while to get, such as obtaining all the heads, something you can earn by swapping them with friends or strangers on-line. The only gripe is you cannot earn more gems to buy the freedom of the prisoners outside of the main story line mode levels, meaning you will have to play the same repetitive stages over and over, or spend lots of time trading them on-line.

In short, BattleBlock Theater isn’t a bad game, but rather an incredibly boring one. You won’t really need to sit down and figure out how to bypass areas, and any tough spots can be figured out quickly for the most part, or completed easier using weapons or random gizmos like wings or a jet pack you obtain in certain stages. The real charm lies in the music, even some visuals, but it’s not enough to save the game themselves. The Behemoth try hard to capture the charm of their two previous offerings, while expanding on the extensiveness of Castle Crashers to keep you playing. Unfortunately, Battleblock Theater just gets really repetitive pretty quick, and the highly limited in game commentary from the narrator honestly does get annoying pretty fast, almost pushing you to boot up Castle Crashers or Alien Hominid instead or hearing the same one liners one more time. There’s a lot of reasons to come back and unlock everything the game has to offer, but chances are, if you make it through the eight chapters, solo or co-op, you’ll want to just walk away, or curse yourself for being a completionist as you trudge on.

Overall Score: 4.5/10

Digital review copy of this title provided by Microsoft Game Studios.