The Behemoth’s games are like Marmite. Some people instantly click with the flash-drawn quirky graphical style the studio adopt for their titles (remember tough but pleasing sideways combat platformer Alien Hominid by the same guys?)
Others find it all a bit lacking and I feel slightly torn between the two camps, liking some of the little comic touches here and there but feeling that the whole thing has a slightly wobbly look to it.
Castle Crashers – Behemoth’s second game, might not look that brilliant but in common with Alien Hominid it keeps gameplay and action strictly following the same simple rules – keep it all uncomplicated but pour on the gameplay.
Starting off with the single-player campaign, I found the game owed a debt to such sideways-scrolling classics as Golden Axe, Double Dragon and some of the peerless Capcom sideways beat ‘em ups like Captain Commando and Cadillacs & Dinosaurs.
You play the part of a crusading knight and at the start of the game you can choose from the following:
Red Knight – Can perform lightning attacks.
Blue Knight – Can perform ice attacks.
Orange Knight – Can perform fire attacks.
Green Knight – Can perform poisonous attacks
These special combat attacks can clear a rampaging horde of enemies in double quick time. Combat is satisfyingly simple, ranging from combinations of button-attacks to bringing ranged weapons and the special attacks into play. Kill all the enemies in each confrontation and then you can move on through the level.
Each level’s quite pleasingly packed with bonus items that can also help you on your quest to rescue the buxom princess from the nasty enemies. The best items are animal familiars which are dropped during battles. Each animal can help you in different ways, so for instance Bitey Bat can inflict a nasty nip on any opposing soldiers, and Frogglet can pick up hard to reach items with his tongue. Packing in so many different gameplay elements lifts Castle Crashers above the ordinary everyday button-masher.
Where Castle Crashers irks slightly is in the way you’re expected to find your own way through each level. The designers haven’t always made it obvious what each level’s objective is, so you may find yourself wandering around aimlessly between each unlocked location trying to find out the catalyst that will trigger your next quest.
Your character can be upgraded in several ways. Visiting a weapons shop (hidden inside a dead whale, at least I think it’s a whale) will allow you to change your main melee weapon. Speaking to the general populace dotted throughout each location will also help you get more from the game too. Ultimately you can eventually unlock far more powerful characters than the four knights, ranging from a Barbarian who is expert in thrown weapons, to a Fire Demon that can unleash fire-based attacks. Playing through the game as one of the knights will allow you to unlock these bonus playable characters, extending the game’s lifespan somewhat.
Castle Crashers comes into its own in co-op mode, whether localised with a bunch of you gathered round the 360 – or online against Live friends. Here is where Castle Crashers really reminded me of classic arcade scrollers and became a heck of a lot of fun. It may feel a slightly hollow experience as a single player but in multiplayer co-op it becomes a mad chaotic scrabble to fight, collect and obtain as many goodies as possible (often co-operative gameplay goes out the window and ends up in a straight scrap for top honours and goodies!)
Castle Crashers also has some rather pleasing multiplayer vs modes too from the weird “All you can Quaff” to the rather more satisfying arena-based combat levels where you can beat all other players for the honour of laying a smacker on the rescued princess.
At 800 points, Castle Crashers would’ve been recommended with no hesitation whatsoever – but Microsoft seems to have slapped a 1200 point price tag on this, making it more of a difficult decision. If you’re the sort of gamer who revels in the social aspects of co-op play then it might just be worth the price. For single players it’s a little bit too expensive because the main replay value will come from repeatedly going through the game to see how much you can grab or unlock. It’s disappointing that so far, two of the more attractive XBLA titles seem to have been used as a showcase for hiking the prices of XBLA games up (with Braid also suffering from being a tough purchase decision because of its 1200 point price tag too).
Overall, it’s a good quality title that does indeed deserve at least a look at the demo. If you instantly fall in love with the scratchy graphics and the simple but engaging gameplay then you might not baulk at the price. If you didn’t get on with Alien Hominid’s toughness or its look and feel, and you think that games like Golden Axe have had their day and aren’t innovative enough any more, you might just pass this one by.