Platform: Xbox 360
Developer: The Behemoth
Publisher: The Behemoth
Reviewed by Ryan Price
What do you do when you’re up late and incredibly bored? You could (and probably should) look for new games on the Xbox Live Arcade. In the past, I have shied away from the XBLA because of its clunky interface that turned finding a game into a treasure hunt at your local garbage dump – Dreadful, scary, and likely to give you a rash. On this particular occasion, the ease of the New Xbox Experience gave me a renewed sense of adventure and I decided to delve into the XBLA.
Thankfully, Microsoft finally gave players some tools to help dig through the mangled mass of games. These tools are lists that group new releases, most popular titles, and winners of some unheard of never ending contest. The last one is not important. Players can also sort games alphabetically, and search for them by name. Being new to the arcade, I submitted to conformity and began my treasure hunt in the “Most Popular” list. It was there that I found a gem amidst the rubble. A zany little action adventure game with goofy cover art called Castle Crashers.
Castle Crashers is an Xbox Live Arcade game that puts many full priced retail games to shame. From the outset, the player is greeted with a unique comedic art style, simple game play, and many in game moments that will make you laugh out loud.
As the game began, I was immediately taken back to the glory days of action adventure gaming because Castle Crashers draws much of its influence from many great classics like Golden Axe, Gauntlet Legends, and even a bit of Earthworm Jim. The player begins by selecting one of four colorful knights that are differentiated by their magical abilities: Poison, Fire, Ice, and Lightning. With my blue ice knight selected, I was treated to a creative introductory cut-scene that made me chuckle as I watched my knight rock out like he was at a Grateful Dead concert to music that was quirky, but fitting. There is not much in the way of a tutorial to this game, it took me 30 seconds to talk to a few characters and learn the basics of combat, magic, and my inventory.
The premise of the game is not unique. A magical crystal has been stolen by a villainous wizard and four princesses were captured along the way. It’s up to you and your colorful knight to retrieve the crystal and rescue the princesses. Along the way, the vile wizard will dispatch varied and comical minions to stop you in your tracks. View the trailer
At once, players familiar with 2D side scrolling adventure games will feel at home. The player enters in from the left onto a stage occupied by baddies and butt-kicking commences. As you kill off your enemies, you are instructed by an animated finger to go right and the screen slides to the next stage — nearly identical to the old Sega Genesis title, Golden Axe. What makes this title even better, and for me, made it fresh and enjoyable, was the designers’ sense of humor. Every stage is unique and full of subtle nuances to look for that will make you smile. As I played through the varied stages, I felt like I was on a treasure hunt as I kept an eye on the background to see events that foreshadowed an upcoming boss fight, or were outrageously funny.
Combat is simple. Melee attacks are made using the X and Y buttons for “quick” and “strong” weapon strikes. Hitting X and Y in different combinations will unleash combo attacks that leave your enemies stunned or without a head. Holding the right trigger and pressing Y will unleash a splash magic attack, you’ll gain new spells if you choose to level up your magic skill. B is reserved for your inventory. Items can be switched out on the fly by using the right and left bumpers. Overall, I found the controls easy to learn and unleashing combos and magic both fluid, and natural. However, this type of combat can be repetitive and even arduous if the game flows like the last bit of ketchup in a glass bottle. Fortunately, this was not the case.
The action is well paced. Combat is broken up into small manageable bites by short 15 second cut-scenes that seem more like comedy skits. Stages are ended by defeating cleverly designed boss fights. What I really appreciated was how the game kept things new by varying the bosses, and the way the boss fights played out. Each boss fight presents its own comedy and challenges that require a little creative thinking, and some skill on the player’s part. One of my favorite boss fights played out like a volley-ball match as we hit a giant beach ball back and forth until one side scored ten points. I never felt like any of the levels were re-hashed, instead I felt compelled to keep playing and find out what came next.
By purchasing the full version of the title you can also expect loads of un-lockable content, achievements, and a mini game called, “All You Can Quaff”. Couple that with multiplayer for up to four players either locally or over Xbox Live and you have the best 1200 Microsoft points you ever spent!
If I keep finding great titles like Castle Crashers on XBLA, I just might quit shelling out $60 (US) for retail games altogether. If you haven’t downloaded the demo already, quit reading this and get to it already!
Meal Most Like: mint chocolate chip ice cream cake — the game’s cartoony fun is best enjoyed with friends, but long exposure will make you sick.