BattleBlock Theater was developed by The Behemoth and published by Microsoft Game Studios. It was released April 3, 2013 for 1200 MSP. A copy was provided for review purposes.
It’s hard to believe it’s been almost five years since the release of Castle Crashers, the side-scrolling brawler brainchild of The Behemoth that grew up to be an XBLA darling that still sits atop sales charts today. Needless to say, the next game made by The Behemoth would have big shoes to fill. Instead of playing it safe, The Behemoth dared to be unique with BattleBlock Theater. Not only did they dare to take on a whole new side-scrolling genre, they also dared to create one of the craziest premise in the history of gaming.
BattleBlock Theater puts you in the shoes of one of the hundreds of prisoners who, after a terrible boat crash, washed up on a mysterious island and were taken captive by giant cats. These cats love their theater, so they force their prisoners into deadly plays. The story mode revolves around platforming and puzzle solving, navigating death traps and fighting crazy animals. When you’re tired of exploring the theater, you can dive into a host of multiplayer modes. BattleBlock Theater is a wonderful platformer not meant to be taken seriously, and made even better when you play with friends.
Here’s what we liked:
Co-optional – The game has a great story mode, which can be played solo or with another player. The game is essentially the same either way, but the co-op levels are adjusted with the teamwork in mind. In either mode, the goal is to puzzle-platform your way to the end of every level, gathering gems to open the exit. The level design is near perfect, matched with great platforming controls and a combat system that relies more on tricking enemies into deathtraps more than dealing damage directly. Single player is enjoyable, but co-op is where the party’s at. Players have to rely on each other to cross gaps, climb cliffs, and solve puzzles. Players can also turn around and kill each other at any time. This is almost encouraged, as friends will respawn near their companion, not breaking the flow of the level. There’s no penalty for goofing around, and that’s what makes it fun (unless you have an extremely annoying partner).
Fight! Fight! Fight! – Story mode is only half the package, as BattleBlock Theater comes with a fierce 4-player competitive multiplayer selection. There’s 8 game modes, each with 15 unique maps, all playable online or off. Winning a game will get you a cozy amount of gems, but everyone gets at least one for participation. There’s the traditional game modes, like King of the Hill and a deathmatch mode called Muckle, which are fun but not nearly as good as their more creative modes. The game modes where you have to color the environment your color, or play a 2D mix of soccer and basketball, are more rewarding as they have a greater focus on platforming abilities and feel like a more original experience. All the modes are fast-paced, well made, and a blast to play, the kind of game that has you yelling with joy and rage as you play.
The world’s a stage – While not the first XBLA game to feature a level editor, BattleBlock Theater handles it like a pro. The editor’s interface is extremely clean and organized, and creating levels is incredibly quick and simple. The tools are easy to use, especially those that aid in building symmetrical multiplayer maps. Once you create levels, you can combine them into a playlist and share them with the world in the Community Theater. The theater’s search feature makes it easy to find, download, and play other player’s playlists online. Rounding out the community section is Furbottom’s Features, which highlights the very best user-made playlists and unlocks the ability to earn gems. A large community will be necessary to keep this alive, but BattleBlock Theater contains all the tools so everyone can get involved in creating and sharing levels.
Cartoony wonder – It comes to no one’s surprise that BattleBlock Theater is a looks fantastic. Dan Paladin’s signature art style shines, from the wonderful design of the theater to the hundreds of humorous unlockable faces. The game has a certain sense of goofy wonder; exploring the theater is cool, unlocking a new face with gems is always a funny surprise, and experimenting with a new weapon brings about all new gameplay opportunities. Nothing in the game is more enjoyable than the cutscenes, most of which are presented as an animated puppet show. There’s even a narrator, who makes everything funnier by delivering well-written lines with an up-beat, goofy voice. The game is so bright, colorful, and upbeat it will almost instantly put a smile on your face.
Here’s what we didn’t like:
Multiplayer lobbies – Getting into an online game isn’t a problem, but dealing with the lobbies can be. Lobbies take the form of in-game theater lobbies, where going through a door counts as a vote. It’s a nice setup, but it has its downsides. It feels like it was build with the idea that you’d stick around in the game type you’ve chosen, because exiting and returning to the main menu can be a hassle if you want to play a variety of game types. You’re also going to become too familiar with the first set of levels in any multiplayer lobby, as most people gravitate towards the closest door.
This and that – While a generally polished experience, there’s some small nagging issues that may bother some players. There’s a pause between death and respawn, which gives other players the opportunity to use your dead body as a platform. While a cool addition, in single player the slight wait slows down the pace. In order to score a perfect A++ on a level, you need to collect all the collectables and finish in an allotted time. The problem is, you don’t know how many gems you need until you get them all, and there’s no on-screen clock to show your progress. While the controls are simple for the most part, the wall jump mechanic can take a some practice to get used to.
BattleBlock Theater is the one of the best multiplayer games to hit XBLA. The game is small but mighty; while not boasting an excessive amount of content, there’s a deep level of polish most games strive to achieve. It’s by no means a perfect game, and some omissions may make a completionist cringe. What sets this game apart is how it balances an ever-so satisfying feel of teamwork with an even more satisfying rush of pushing your friends into a pit of spikes and laughing as you jump on their corpse. This unforgettable oddball experience is one only The Behemoth could give us. BattleBlock Theater may have been in development for a long time, but it was definitely worth the wait.
Score: Buy it!