|By Andrew Raub||Tuesday, 7 Oct 2008|
In 2004, a little development team by the name of The Behemoth released a little flash game called Alien Hominid. Eventually it was made into a full fledged game and released on GameCube and PS2. Featuring cartoon styled 2D graphics and classic run-n-gun game play, The Behemoth created a gem of nostalgia and humor.
Here we are in 2008, and The Behemoth has struck again, this time with a game that is reminiscent of beat-em-up and hack-n-slash games like Final Fight or Golden Axe. Featuring the same style cartoon graphics and character design, Castle Crashers looks like Alien Hominid set in medieval times.
Graphically, the game is very well done. The characters are colorful and fluid, and animations are smooth and exaggerated. The presentation is a mixed bag of grim brutality and whimsical humor. There is plenty of violence, but it is comical rather than offensive. The player characters are fairly generic, varying mostly in color. The enemies are more varied; standard enemies range from goblin like creatures to black armored cone head knights, to creepy panda bears. Bosses are anywhere from regular sized to massive screen filling hulks. The bosses are clever and humorous, particularly the Catfish and giant ear of corn bosses. Yes, you will fight a giant ear of corn.
The music in the game is a great mix of epic battle tunes, lighthearted medieval fare, and funky synthesized melodies. Generally the music fits in well with the levels and keeps the game anything but boring.
Although on the surface Castle Crashers looks similar to Alien Hominid, the two share very little in the game play department. Castle Crashers is essentially a side scrolling beat-em-up. The levels are fairly straightforward, and the main goal is simply to push through the onslaught of enemy combatants. Levels are made up of a number of stages, generally climaxed by one of the zany bosses. After beating levels, players can revisit any stage.
The arsenal includes loads of weapons as well as magic and items. The weapons range from simple swords to giant, bloody blades to twigs and fish. Different weapons provide different stat bonuses. Each character has its own magic style, but they all work somewhat similarly. For example, the orange knight has flame based magic, and the blue knight has ice based magic. Holding down the R trigger put the character into magic mode. The Y button activates the main magic attack, which is generally a large area attack that can hit multiple enemies. The orange knight sense out a large blast of fire, and the blue knight summons large ice chunks to crash into the ground. Using the B button fires off a projectile that can hit one enemy, but usually does more damage. The A button allows for a jumping magic attack that is good for getting out of a tight spot. Items include bombs as well as a bow and a boomerang. Survival in this game will require good use of each of these attacks.
Some good RPG elements are in place to keep the game fresh as it progresses. Gaining experience points from attacking enemies, players level up and gain the ability to boost their stats. Each character has its own strength, magic, defense/health, and agility stats. As these stats increase, the player becomes more powerful and it is especially noticeable when returning to earlier stages. The magic stat has several steps that, when reached, provide new/better magic. That stat system is pretty customizable, so players can create a heavy magic use, or a brutish warrior. But the game is designed to require a range of styles, so it will never be an easy cruise if you stick to one style.
Castle Crashers supports up to four players, allowing for dynamic parties of friends. The action can get a bit hectic with this many players, but it’s definitely more fun than going solo. One of my few gripes with Castle Crashers is how multiplayer is handled. Each player will need a Xbox Live profile, no guest accounts. This makes it slightly more of a pain to just get into the game and start bashing skulls. Second, the characters aren’t shared between players. My level 45 orange knight is usable only by my profile, so anyone else wanting to play as an orange knight will start at level 1 (but you can’t have two of the same character playing at a time). If you have friends to play with often, this might not be so bad. But when you only occasionally play, it becomes a pain. It makes it difficult to sample the many characters available. It would be really nice if character stats were a game wide thing and not a profile specific thing. Online multiplayer is available, but many gamers have complained that it is shaky at best. A patch is supposed to be coming in the future to fix this, but in the mean time it may be difficult to play online.
Despite the flaws in the online department, Castle Crashers is a blast to play alone or with friends. There is plenty of humor and there is no doubt that to the developers this game was a labor of love. There is plenty of replay value as the game is just plain fun. Revisiting levels hardly gets old, and with friends to play with the fun keeps going.