Name: Castle Crashers
Platform: Xbox Live Arcade
I’ve been looking forward to Castle Crashers for years now, and was actually upset when I found out I would be at the Penny-Arcade Expo the day after it released. Part of me wanted to stay home from the amazing gaming convention just to play it more, and after getting a few hours of sleep after an entire day spent flying from coast to coast the first thing I did was play through the game a second time, from beginning to end, in one sitting. When I finish writing this review, the first thing I plan on doing is playing Castle Crashers, and the soundtrack has been looping in my head ever since I first started playing it. If that isn’t a good testament to how fun and addictive it is I’m not sure what to tell you.
Castle Crashers begins with the arrival of a mysterious wizard who makes off with the King’s daughters and a large crystal from atop his throne. The story involves playing as knights who are sent to rescue the damsels in distress, while taking out all enemies in-between. The story is minimal, and relies more on diarrhea humor than it does an emotionally gripping narrative. Even so, the Behemoth’s comedic storytelling and general sense of humor permeates the title, and even without dialogue the game manages to have laugh-out-loud funny moments. It’s usually slapstick, and many jokes stray into “what the hell is that” territory, but it works, and that’s all that matters. The graphics and music are fantastic and adorable, with a similar style to Alien Hominid HD, the Behemoth’s last title.
Gameplay is very traditional and feels reminiscent of every beat-em-up ever made. There are sections that are nearly identical to Golden Axe, Battle Toads, River City Ransom, and Contra, and despite not being very original in terms of gameplay it has creative enough level design to feel entirely fresh. Killing enemies earns experience, which will level up your character, and points can be spent on Damage, Magic, Defense, and Agility. The four choices unlock more abilities and combos, giving the game a slight character-creation aspect. There are also plenty of items that enhance these abilities, as well as “Animal Orbs” which float around supplying bonuses of various types. Playing a character with maxed out Attack will play very differently than one with maxed Magic, and while it isn’t as difference as playing a Mage versus a Warrior in an RPG it still adds some variety to the gameplay.
There are dozens of unlockable characters, weapons, animal companions, items, and achievements to earn, extending the game’s replayability to a crazy level. Where the game shines brightest, however, is in its cooperative multiplayer, which shows off the way the game is meant to be played. Four players can team up and complete every level of the game, all the while earning experience and leveling up their own Castle Crasher. Players work together to defeat levels while competing over items and gold, all the while gearing up to battle eachother to win the princess’s love.
The co-op is available both locally and online, but due to some annoying and prominent network issues playing with friends over the internet is nearly impossible at this time. Hopefully, it’s only a temporary annoyance, but the fact that the game wasn’t able to launch with a well-functioning online system is disappointing.
Castle Crashers reaches for the stars and actually manages to grab hold, but immediately stutters, lags, freezes, and drops out of the sky. It’s sad and disappointing that the only thing holding the game back from true greatness is a handful of glitches that couldn’t have been foreseen, but luckily these will hopefully be fixed in the near future. Even with its issues, it manages to be one of the best game’s in its genre, with some of the most addictive gameplay in years. The greatest achievement in Castle Crashers is that while it was made as homage to the 2D platformer of old it manages to be the best among them, and being better than the games you’re being a tribute to is an uncommon occurrence.