Review: BattleBlock Theater is a wonderful production everyone should experience
If you were to mix an assortment of vibrant colors and adorable characters, sprinkled with some dark humor, the result would be a wonderful concoction only a developer like The Behemoth can produce. The Behemoth is a game company who has yet to disappoint by ensuring they invest the right amount of time needed into every project, and five years is quite a long time. Crowds enjoyed the beat-em-up adventure that was Castle Crashers but we yearned for something new from the imaginative developer; subsequently, The Behemoth thought it’s about time to stop teasing us with BattleBlock Theater and just release the darn thing already. After several years of event showcasing and (cold empty) promises, the masses are finally able to enjoy being tortured by maniacal cats and a dude with a (spiffy) hat.
BattleBlock Theater features a fine gentleman named Hatty Hattington and his beloved polygon friends. One day they set out on a sea voyage, and having learned nothing from the show Gilligan’s Island, are hit by a terrible storm that strands them on an allegedly deserted isle. You play as one of the Hatty’s hundreds of friends, guided by an ominous yet quirky narrator, trying to make sense of where you are and where everyone else is. Hatty is no longer the gracious fellow he once was, thanks to a magical hat some technologically advanced cats placed on him, as he’s now forcing you to run through traps to appease an audience of well-dressed felines.
As a 2D platformer, the game is straightforward in objective but amazingly chaotic in level design. After choosing the look, color and weapon for your creature, you make your way through a combination of traps, cats, pieces of toast, and lasers to collect three gems to open a portal to the next stage. There are seven gems available in any given stage, and collecting them all improves your performance grade. There are also yarn balls to gather, and at times Hatty throws his hat into the ring to collect as a bonus. The stages are short but deliver tremendously on amusement in conjunction with the lively soundtrack and the inclusion of the narrator berating you for failing. “No, not like that! Don’t die!,” he says. “I’m trying!,” I cry back as a twinge of helplessness dwells within me. Each level ends with a timed trial that tests all that was learned in the previous nine stages, an exciting yet stressful ride the cat audience will enjoy whether or not you make it through. After completing an entire floor, you have the option to return to complete three encore rooms.
The environments are splashed with all kinds of pigments, intensifying the goofiness and child’s play aspect the game wonderfully conveys. The enemies are comical themselves, with bouncer cats equipped with headpieces and sunglasses at every corner to make it harder to pass through the levels. That said attempting to kill enemies turned out to be the annoying portion of the experience. Maneuvering in the game is simple, but when you attempt to punch any of the enemies there’s a small (yet significant) lag between your input and the game’s response. The enemies have a better grasp of their combat mechanics than you, so it’s easier for them to punch your handsome face straight into a puddle of water, an instant death. Thankfully the game is quite forgiving with its checkpoints, especially if you have a partner tagging along. Your score is also not affected by the number of times you die, though time is a factor.
Each room is built up of blocks, each with its own property meant to affect your completion of the stage. You have your conveyor belt blocks, blocks composed of burning charcoal to boost jumps, floating blocks that change position every couple of seconds, etc. There are also sundry methods of transportation to collect hard to reach gems, ranging from jetpacks to angel wings, and secret passages you can accidentally stumble upon.
For LittleBigPlanet fans out there, you may enjoy the familiar feature of blowing up your character if you get stuck somewhere with no means to escape. You can even punch and throw your allies around. The aforementioned yarn balls and gems collected are used to buy new weapons, ranging from ice canons to grenades, and new faces, respectively. Although collecting heads, or releasing prisoners as the game suggests, doesn’t add anything to the gameplay, it was fun (and addicting) seeing what strange creature you drew from a random pool of cute faces and freaks. It also gives each player in BattleBlock Theater their own appearance so no two players should look alike, and if they happen to, you can just trade heads with a friend for more customization options.
The campaign can be completed solo, but there’s more fun to be had when more people join in the torture. You can play online or locally with a friend, and should you choose couch co-op you won’t have the hindrance of a splitscreen; the game’s camera simply zooms out to contain all players. If you choose to play the campaign with a friend, the traps and puzzles change to utilize the extra set of hands, which in turn gives players different experiences depending on how they choose to play.
There’s so much to explore in BattleBlock Theater, particularly in multiplayer. There are up to eight available modes in matchmaking, all equally silly. There’s the option to participate in ‘Color the World’ which tasks you with coloring more blocks than the other players, ‘Muckle’ dictates the players find interesting ways to beat up prisoners, and ‘Ball Game’ is about dunking a soccer ball into a basketball hoop. For the creative types a level editor is available and The Behemoth succeeded in making it very user-friendly. Anyone can build and publish a level in minutes, and levels that impress the developers will be featured in community playlists for all to try out and criticize.
It will be a little strange to visit a PAX without BattleBlock Theater on display, but this is great news for fans that have been patiently waiting for its release all these years. The Behemoth managed to deliver another peculiar adventure without ever crossing the line of aggravation in its puzzle platform design. The game’s satire was a welcomed change from the character-heavy experiences we’ve been absorbing lately from triple-A releases, a refresher we sometimes need in our gaming catalog. If you want to have some mindless fun while an eccentric voice does its best to criticize you for your failures, BattleBlock Theater is ready to fulfill those needs.