BattleBlock Theater Review For Xbox 360
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.
Tired of the same old cookie-cutter platformers dragging down your spirit? Looking for something fresh and entertaining, like in the days of Super Mario Bros. – playing games for hours on end with your best friends in your basement and having a grand old time? Developer The Behemoth heard your cries, and has finally released BattleBlock Theater for Xbox Live.
Grab a seat on your couch, bean bag, or even one of those egg-like chair thingies, as we sail to a mysterious island with hilarity and friendship abound. A place where imagination takes shape in the form of paper cut-outs, and Cats are evil creatures that imprison and torture people. Why would they do that? Only you can find out!
The storyline’s premise is both interesting and entertaining. You follow the journey of the S.S. Friend Ship and its passengers, including ‘that guy’ who’s like, King Friend of Friendship Kingdom: Hatty Hattington. You are all travelling the seas together when a storm shipwrecks you and strands you on a mysterious island. Now, with nowhere else to go, you make your way inland to a strange theatre. While in the theatre, you see Hatty being tackled by two Cat police officers, and forcefully given a mysterious red tophat. Immediately afterwards, the Cats spot you and throw you in jail. It would seem that Hatty has betrayed you and your friends on the Friend Ship, and you are all now in captivity, forced by evil Cats to perform for them by completing deadly feats for their amusement.
The opening cinematic had me instantly in stitches and calling my friend Ed to advise he must promptly drop everything to come play the game with me. If you are still unsure of the intense comedic and clever nature of this game, give the opening cinematic a watch. It is by far one of the more consistently funny games to hit the Xbox Live Marketplace to date.
Should you choose to adventure alone, you’ll be thrown into a world where you are imprisoned by Cats, betrayed by Hatty, and forced to perform in several Scenes (in the form of levels). Your mission is to collect Gems so that you can trade them to free your friends from their prisons. Each level is comprised of an obstacle course set in a 2D platform-type gameplay, with enemies and deadly traps aplenty. You will run, jump, and climb your way to the Exit, which will only be unlocked once at least three Gems are obtained. You can also pick up Yarn along the way, which can be traded with Cats for new weapons. When you trade in Gems or Yarn, you’ll notice the friend you unlock will be randomly given, as will the weapon. There are entire lists of friends to free, and the only choice you’ll have is the shape of your friend’s head; there are round, star, square, triangle, or rectangle shapes for heads to choose from. Once a friend is unlocked, you will have the option to change your own character, and customize what they look like. Any character faces or shapes you’ve unlocked you will be able to play with, and you’ll find yourself changing up the way you look a lot! There are ten Scenes per Act in total, and three Encore levels in the form of time trials. Encore levels are optional, but to unlock the last Scene and the next Act, you’ll have to beat all the Scenes levels.
While the single-player is very entertaining, The Behemoth understood people would want replay value added to the game. This is where the Xbox Live and 2-Player Options shine. When you play locally with 2-Player, you’ll go through the same storyline, but the levels change to accommodate the second player. Areas are added where you’ll have to team up to complete it, or sacrifice each other to get to the end. There will be options like standing on each other’s head and the player on the bottom pressing X and up on the analog stick to shoot their buddy upwards so they can better reach a platform. Once there, the player on the ledge can hit RT when the player on the bottom jumps up to grab them and pull them up. Sometimes, to get across perilous water areas, you’ll have to sacrifice a player so the other can jump on their floating corpse and be able to jump to safety. Little additions like this make the gameplay more enjoyable, and adds a certain dynamic that makes it even more entertaining to play with a partner than playing solo. The game also has friendly fire, which is a rare commodity in games today. What this means is that if you go to punch an enemy, you can accidentally hit your pal and knock him into acid, or kill him outright.
The only real issues players will run into in 2-Player Mode are the inconsistency of checkpoints and the camera panning. Normally, if a player dies, they will spawn at the next checkpoint, regardless of who claimed it. This creates a tactical advantage in plotting out a plan, when sacrificing players to advance in a level. The downside to this is that sometimes the players will not spawn where intended, even if the other partner is alive and past a new checkpoint. Most of the time they do spawn correctly, however, which only adds to the frustration when they do not – especially when on an Encore level where it is a time trial instead of just simple ‘collect the Gems’ gameplay. Also, the subsequent camera panning when a player has been spawned further away, causes the screen to zoom out. Since you cannot adjust the screen, this makes trying to complete a level together very frustrating, as neither player can see well enough to know what’s going on. These issues aside, the game is thoroughly enjoyable on a co-operative front, and has the potential to create some of the most memorable gaming experiences between friends this side of our generation.
There are so many 4-8 multiplayer options in BattleBlock Theater you’ll be hard-pressed to find one to stick with. There are: Soul, Muckle, Challenge, King of the Hill, Grab the Gold, Ball Game, and Horse. All have their own unique appeal. In Soul, players literally steal each other’s Souls and hold onto them to gain points, and Grab the Gold you’ll steal gold from a golden whale to win the most gold for your team. Muckle is a team-based battle mode, where you kill the opposite team for points, while Challenge is a time trial where you simply complete a level and the best time wins the match! Ball Game is a BattleBlock Theater version of basketball, Color the World is a race to colour in more blocks than the other team, and Horse you’ll steal the opposing team’s horses and bring them to your stable for points. If you like fighting games, King of the Hill will strike your fancy, as you’ll team up to stand on boxes with crowns for the longest amount of time, while your opponents try to kick you off it.
If the variety of multiplayer modes wasn’t enough, players also have the option of a Level Editor, which allows them to create their own levels for any game type. They can be uploaded to the community for others to download, or can be played locally. The Level Editor gives an added value to challenging friends and creating a universe uniquely yours!
Visually the game is its own entity. If you were to take a bunch of cardboard cut-outs, some popsicle sticks, a lamp, lots of glue, and a huge imagination – you’ve pretty much recreated this game. It tips its hat to the old, artistic nature of our childhoods, while adding a flavour uniquely bizarre and adult-oriented. You can actually picture this game being put together on-the-fly, which is endearing and entertaining in the same breath. The characters themselves are cartoony and while they look like paper cut-out people, they move almost like cats themselves. The Cats themselves are all tabbies, dressed up in the blue and gold police uniforms that scream to the audience that they are in control. The backdrops are also wonderful – as they mix the dark, dingy prison bars with bright, classic gold and red colours you’d see at the theatre. This contrast sets an almost dark, carnival-type feel to it, which is where the music plays beautifully.
Background songs the players will hear in the game are typically filled with organ pipes, twang guitars, low drum beats, and even some high-tops. Special changes to the music add to the game’s ridiculous nature, such as when you find a secret and the music changes to a score completely comprised of the narrator beat-boxing and finding multiple new ways of inserting the word ‘secret’ into the lyrics. The sound effects are equally as bizarre, with cute little purring noises when you land on fuzzy animals shaped like blocks, or the squishy, fart noises that are made when your character explodes.
The easiest way to explain the narration (and voice acting) is to imagine some random guy who isn’t used to children being sat down with a bunch of them and some popsicle-stick puppets, and told to entertain them for an hour. There are many instances where he corrects himself, as if he is about to swear or say something inappropriate in front of the children, and other moments where he stutters and quickly seems to come up with the next part of the story. The most entertaining bits are when he is consumed with an idea and just throws strings of witty commentary forth like a blast of blasty goodness. Some of the best moments are when the narrator seems to be ad-libbing, like “Shut your faces as I wrap you in the cozy blanket of a story”, or “Cause the ocean was all like, psych”. These sounds and visuals bring BattleBlock Theater to life in a surprising and comical way.
If you’re on the fence about this game, you really shouldn’t be. The Behemoth has struck gold with BattleBlock Theater, and should be justly rewarded for their efforts. It is almost as if the creators looked at each other and said, “To heck with what anybody else says; let’s have fun just making a game for the heck of it,” and brought us their raw, unhinged universe to enjoy. Albeit, if you watched the above video and felt completely turned off, this may not be your kind of humour – or game. The theme is consistent throughout the entire experience, be it narrative or gameplay. It’s cleverly obtuse in all the right places, and something that can be enjoyed over and over, in many different ways. After spending the first few minutes playing, you may find yourself thinking of all the people who need to see this game, and how much they’ll enjoy it. I know I did.
BattleBlock Theater receives a 4.5/5.0
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