The gaming developer The Behemoth got their start with a simple flash game called Alien Hominid. Due to it’s overwhelming amount of plays, a remake was launched for the Xbox Live Arcade: Alien Hominid HD. While Alien Hominid was 2 players, The Behemoth’s latest seeks to be a full on 4 player fun fest.
Some of the industries’ greatest beat ‘em ups are paid homage to in Castle Crashers: Double Dragon, Battle Toads, River City Ransom, and Golden Axe, just to name a few. Read on to see if Castle Crashers holds its place in the beat ‘em up hall of fame.
As soon as you load up the game, the classic arcade style is in your face. When selecting a character, the game shows the iconic, flashing “press A to join” on the other 3 player’s portraits. Initially, you can select from 4 Knights, and if you have Alien Hominid HD installed on your Xbox and one achievement completed, you can pick an extra character: the Alien. There is the Red Knight, a master of lightning; the Yellow Knight, the master of fire; the Blue Knight, the master of ice, and the Green Knight, the master of poison.
Dan Paladin’s signature animation style really shines here more than Alien Hominid. To call this game “comic-book” like would not do it justice. Castle Crashers is “fairy-tale” like in its visuals. The colors are vibrant, and all of the enemies found in the game have unique attributes to distinguish themselves from others. The story also progresses in a unique manner. There is rarely a traditional narrative involved, but the player will always know what’s going on in the story through emotions and actions the characters take. The bosses are imaginative, and no major enemy looks similar. For instance, one boss, adequately named “The Catfish”, is actually a large, hulking cat with a fin strapped to his back!
Castle Crashers boast some very memorable music. Each area has its own tune, and they range from epic hymns to retro jingles. The sound effects, however, aren’t as impressive. There are the typical clanks and explosions, but there’s not much you will remember. That’s not to say all the sound effects are forgettable; the yelps and gibberish that many enemies utter are downright hilarious.
Castle Crashers starts in a big way right out of the gate; you are drinking and partying with your friends at the castle pub, and a friendly knight flies into the room with an arrow in his back. Before you bust of the room to see what the commotion is, you can learn all the controls and basic actions of Crashers. This is a very nice addition, allowing newcomers to the genre to get their bearings. As soon as you enter the first area, you’ll witness the King’s greatest treasure, the Power Crystal, stolen before your eyes. All four maidens of the kingdom are also kidnapped, and your quest begins. The magic of the story is that even though the “damsel in distress” idea has been done before, Castle Crashers throws so many twists, turns, and unique characters at you; you’ll realize it’s individuality in no time.
When a character levels up, you may choose to increase his strength, magic, defense, or speed. This is where you can fine-tune your character to your playing style. Different weapons give different statistics, and different collectable pets give different abilities. Want to melee more than anything else? Put points into strength, pick up a mace or club, and use the Bat pet that bites enemies. Want to be a magic user? Put lots of points into magic, and then wield a wand. Like to be fast and use ranged attacks? Wield a bow and pile points into agility. Compound this customization with the fact that every character has distinctly different elemental attacks and abilities, and you have yourself a winning combination. After every level, you have the opportunity to enter a shop, and buy various items, weapons, and pets with the gold you earned during the level.
Bosses all have unique attack patterns, and after major boss battles that involve the rescue of a fair Maiden, the game lends itself to a mechanic found in Streets of Rage: you have to fight your allies for her love! You’ll find all sorts of crazy level mechanics like this, even a surprise volleyball match with the enemy. You’ll never know what Castle Crashers has waiting for you in the next level.
My only big complaint with thes gameplay is the possibility of boredom. Beat ‘em ups are not for everyone, and while the enemies and bosses change dramatically, ultimately it’s a button masher. You will spend the majority of the game pressing X, and Y. The game starts kind of slow, and I wanted to see more pet orbs and weapons in the beginning of the game, but as long as you don’t tire from the scheme, the game has many unique moments and surprises along the way, and picks up faster than you’d think.
Even though typical beat ‘em ups are short, Castle Crashers is the exception to the rule. As soon as you beat the first level, an additional playable character, the Grey Knight, is unlocked. You may even want to start the level over and try him out right away! Every area has a unique, optional arena, where you fight NPCs, allowing you to unlock even more characters. There are also tons of hidden pets, and weapons to satisfy the pack rat in everyone. In order to find these, the game encourages you to backtrack to levels you have beaten to find hidden items.
If you never play this game with anyone else, it would still be quite lengthy, unless you were the type of person that only beat games once. A lot of players will definitely beat the game as a normal character, which unlocks more characters in-itself, and redo the game on a higher difficulty, taking different paths, using different weapons, and playing in a different style. The game also comes with an “All you can quaff (eat)” button mashing mini-game, that you can play online with others. The other additional mode, Arena battle, has a few mini-games in it as well. For instance, you can have an all out duel fest, or play “treasure hunter”, where 4 players rush to dig up the treasure horde first.
Beat ‘em ups have been around since the dawn of video games. They’re the ultimate game to gather 3 of your best friends and just sit down and have fun with. This game will have you laughing out loud while you have a blast playing it. The Behemoth definitely is a fan of classic gaming, and let their newest work be reflective of that. Imagine taking the best elements of all your favorite beat ‘em ups and meshing them into one game. If you’re looking for an original 4 player coop experience, download Castle Crashers.
For an Xbox Live Arcade game, it looks beautiful. The artwork is all hand drawn, and fits the game perfectly. Dan Paladin definitely knows how to design memorable characters.
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Castle Crashers plays just like a modern beat-em-up: very well. There are many combos, spells, and weapons that you can utilize to suite your play style and keep the game fresh. This review is also written after all of the data save corruption issues and online issues have been fixed.
The sound effects are nothing to write home about, but they get the job done. The music however, is very fitting and epic.
With over 20 unlockable characters, over 60 weapons, a level cap of 99, online co-op and versus play, this game will last you a long time. There is also one downloadable pack out, and reportedly more are coming. As long as you don’t tire of the beat-em-up scheme, you’re in for one long $15 game.
Castle Crashers has a unique art style, and sense of humor. There is plenty to keep you coming back time and time again.