Rejoice! After a long hiatus, the masterminds behind Alien Hominid and Castle Crashers are back with a quirky 2D old-school platformer that is packed with content. BattleBlock Theater continues the cooperative tradition previously tackled by The Behemoth — with the introduction of competitive multiplayer and a level editor — making it well worth the wait.
The story begins with your nameless protagonist and his fellow comrades getting shipwrecked on a mysterious island populated by sadistic cats. These demented felines capture you and your friends and put an evil top hat on your best friend Mr Hatty Hattington’s head, turning him into the ringleader of their sadistic ritual of watching prisoners perform on a theater stage full of deadly traps. It is now up you to battle minions, solve puzzles and collect gems in your pursuit of freedom. BattleBlock Theater stays true to The Behemoth’s familiar brand of humor thanks in part to your heroic journey being narrated by a hysterical and cynical narrator (voiced by Will Stamper) who pads each chapter with amusing quips. His sarcastic and juvenile comments (loads of poop jokes) complement the experience, making it difficult not to crack a smile as you progress.
Visually, BattleBlock Theater looks fantastic, which of course should come as no surprise. From Dan Paladin’s signature art style to the carefree soundtrack, this title is bursting with creativity — cutscenes play out with paper dolls being held on sticks. Containing eight chapters, with nine initial stages each, a time-trial finale, and three tricky extras, areas are composed entirely of blocks, each type with its own unique properties. The game won’t hold your hand as you explore more than 400 carefully constructed stages that will test your platforming and puzzle-solving skills. Different block types interact with each other to form the basis for the game’s puzzles. Mastering their unique physics and abilities is necessary to get anywhere.
The premise is simple, but it gets progressively harder, and towards the end you’re really restraining yourself from tossing your controller at the wall. But similar Super Meat Boy, successfully getting past a difficult level is a rewarding feeling. Your overall goal is to pass through an exit gate, but first you must collect a number of gems that are spewed throughout the level. You’ll only need at least three gems to exit, but seeking out other gems will allow you to randomly free one of the 300 captured prisoners and don their head — creepy. Additionally, each level has a well-hiding oversized ball of yarn which can be used to purchase new weapons at the theater gift shop. Acid bubbles, boomerangs, grenades, fireballs, dart guns and more are available to buy. These weapons become crucial as new obstacles and enemies are gradually introduced, but checkpoints are liberally sprinkled about, so don’t get too upset when you fail – which will happen often.
Thankfully the platforming controls are responsive. I rarely felt like the controls were the reason why I was dying, even in the most difficult sections. You will be executing complicated wall jumps with precise timing and double jumps to quickly save yourself from falling through dissolving blocks. Unfortunately the same cannot be said about the combat mechanics. Directional punches, kicks and a sliding move lack power as you succumb to random button-mashing. Often I found it beneficial to avoid confrontation with enemies. Not only because I barely budged them with a punch, but their suicidal tendencies to knock me into hazards was extremely frustrating. Luckily, the campaign focuses more on platforming than it does combat.
Playing through BattleBlock Theater alone is fun, but throw in a friend either locally or online, and the game truly shines. Together you will playthrough stages tweaked to encourage cooperation: stand on each others’ shoulders to reach higher platforms, lean over edges to give your partner a hand, or stand on a switch to allow your partner to progress. It’s extremely fun messing around on stage, especially when you slap each other into traps. The only downside is that the camera pans out to accommodate both players on screen, making it difficult to avoid oncoming attacks and traps. There are also four-player co-op and versus modes with a traditional deathmatch mode called Muckle, but it’s difficult to appreciate due to the games lackluster combat. Other modes include King of the Hill (push other players off scoring zones), Color the World (touch blocks to turn them your team’s color), and platforming games based around basketball and horse riding.
As an added bonus, BattleBlock Theater includes a robust level editor. The editor controls are simple and extremely user friendly. Using the shoulder button, you can swap between different types of blocks in your pursuit of creating the perfect level. Once you’ve created your level, you can combine them into a playlist and share them online within the Community Theater. Similar to LittleBigPlanet and Trials Evolution, you can rate each offering and organize them into best of week, month and all-time listings, in addition to a list of the developers’ favorites. Rounding out the community section is Furbottom’s Features, which highlights the very best user-created playlists and unlocks the ability to earn gems. As long as the community continues to turn out stages, BattleBlock Theater will most likely hold a spot within your gaming rotation.
From unlocking new characters to playing community created stages, BattleBlock Theater has a lot to offer. It is one of the best multiplayer games to hit XBLA and there’s a deep level of polish most downloadable games strive to achieve.