It's felt like a long time coming, and the hype has been extraordinary considering the platform, but Castle Crashers finally hit Xbox Live Arcade and has made a huge splash with gamers the world over.
Hailing from the minds of Tom Fulp and Dan Paladin of The Behemoth, Castle Crashers has been highly anticipated for its sense of humor, retro sensibilities and the fact that The Behemoth's last major game, Alien Hominid, is a well-loved example of hardcore gaming at its hardest. With Castle Crashers, Fulp and Paladin have delivered a more accessible, considerably larger and far more ambitious title, one that was so eagerly awaited that its online servers are still clogged with gamers desperate to get their co-op time in.
Has Castle Crashers lived up to the hype, or was The Behemoth's medieval hack-n'-slash destined to disappoint? In keeping with the game's four-player sensibilities, we have assembled a four-man team of trustworthy reviewing knights in myself, Reverend Anthony, Jordan "Grim" Devore and Mike "Savant" Ferry. Don armor and come with us for the official Destructoid review of Castle Crashers.
Castle Crashers (XBLA)
Growing up, I was always a huge fan of the side-scrolling beat-'em-up. The likes of Final Fight, Golden Axe and Streets of Rage all have achieved revered places in my memory, and it's a love that has continued in the modern day with my love of hack-n'-slash action games. Still, as much as I'll spend hours with Dynasty Warriors, part of me always pines for the traditional brawler, where you and some friends could waste the day fighting a horde of enemies, clearing rooms before a flashing arrow tells you to move on.
Enter Castle Crashers, and a return to the glory days of the beat-'em-up. Castle Crashers looks new and flashy, but its gameplay is deeply rooted in the past, and it's all the better for it. Choosing initially from four different colored knights, your task is to battle through 20+ levels of hack-n'-slash chaos to rescue four princesses from an evil sorcerer and his army of minions.
The wit and charm of The Behemoth's creations are all evident in Castle Crashers; from the opening segment showing knights throwing devil horns and rocking out to gentle medieval background music, to the utterly amazing end sequence (which is something I won't dare ruin), Castle Crashers is an endearing, sometimes hilarious experience full of visual gags and unapologetic silliness that's helped along by Dan Paladin's terrific art and animation.
So, it looks good and makes you laugh, but how does it play? Almost superbly. I say "almost" because it can be very difficult to line up your attacks sometimes thanks to the 2D art style, but once you get a hold of your enemies and start hacking off heads, it's brilliantly addictive fun. Each of the knights (and unlockable characters) play the same in close combat, with identical sword-swinging attacks, weapon availability and unlockable combos. However, each character is gifted with a variety of magical attacks that remain unique to the player. The orange knight, for example, uses fire-based magic, popping off fireballs and issuing forth a sea of flame. The red knight wields lightning bolts, the blue knight can summon freezing icicles and the green knight has a variety of poisonous attacks to drain enemy life.
As the game progresses, you will be able to unlock even more characters, with their own sets of magic skills. Some of the magic, however, is cloned from character to character and for the most part, you'll be playing more because you like the character model, not because your choice does anything particular different. It's a small detail given how much you else you get given, but more character variety would have been grand.
Whatever warrior you choose, you'll be in for a substantial quest. Not only does the main game last for over twenty levels, you can collect experience points and train your characters up to level 99, allocating skill points to boost attack, magic, defense and agility, and earning new combos and spells. Castle Crashers provides all the features of a full-priced retail game, and EXP fiends will find plenty to do if their thumbs can take the button mashing strain.
While Castle Crashers retains all the good of the old-school brawler, it also retains everything that makes them frustrating. Enemies, for example, will be more than happy to attack you from both sides, and they spam their projectile attacks to almost farcical levels at times. This can be incredibly annoying, especially if you're playing solo. Of course, adding between two and three allies to the mix evens the odds considerably, and this is where Castle Crashers truly comes to life.
Featuring both local and Xbox Live co-operative play, up to four people can take on the main game or go head-to-head in Arena mode, and this is where the fun really takes hold. With four friends on screen, an already chaotic game becomes sheer lunacy, and for the vast majority of the game you won't even know what's happening. Are you winning? Are you getting your arse kicked? You barely know, and you barely care, because you're having too much fun to make sense of the fireballs and bodies flying around the screen. All the memories of co-operative beat-'em-ups come flooding back -- from having to apologize when you accidentally take a health item that your friend desperately needed, to the inevitable (and wonderfully stereotypical) moments where the allies have to turn on each other to get the girl. Despite the co-op, there is a competitive element to each round of Castle Crashers, but it's such a fun and friendly competition that nobody really minds losing.
And that right there is Castle Crashers' greatest weapon -- the ability to make you not care. Even if you lose your temper at being shot to pieces by a bunch of cheap archers, you'll soon forget about it and laugh at a puerile shit gag, or go beat up the Barbarian Boss again to feel good about yourself. Castle Crashers refuses to take itself seriously, and if you dare try to do so yourself, you'll look and feel ridiculous.
What else can I mention? There's the astoundingly brilliant soundtrack, full of memorable and infectious tunes (the happy sound of the Forest Entrance level is a personal favorite) or the pointless but fantastically titled "All You Can Quaff" button-mashing eating contest. There are the challenging boss fights that each leave a lasting impression, the hidden animals that you can collect and equip to add unique bonuses and there's that particular deer that will remain forever cherished in your heart when you first meet him.
I think I got it all. I'd be wrong to not mention the fact that, as of the time of writing, the Xbox Live server issues are still not ironed out. It can be very hard to achieve and maintain an online game, but a fix is promised and things seem to at least be a bit more tolerable. A number of glitches have also been reported, including data loss that has seen a few players lose hours of leveling and item unlocking.
That aside, Castle Crashers is a superb and addictive experience that is well worth the 1200-MS-Point price tag. Still being played even after completion, its button-mashing havoc threatens to give me carpal tunnel syndrome, and the unlocked Insane Mode is giving me a run for my money. To put it simply -- this game demands your attention, and if the era of digital distribution means that more titles like Castle Crashers will be made, then it's an era I welcome with open arms.
Castle Crashers is the best not-quite-co-op game I've ever played. Jim's addressed most all my feelings on the game pretty much perfectly, but I have to point out the Behemoth's wonderfully inspired decision to focus almost as heavily on player-versus-player gameplay as cooperation.
Prior to Castle Crashers' release, the Internet was aflame with discussions about how much the game was going to cost. There was a rumor going around that claimed we'd have to fork over 1800 Microsoft Points for the highly anticipated beat-'em-up, and that infuriated many, many people. In retrospect, however, I'm actually shocked that Castle Crashers' price tag wasn't higher. When you can get more play time out of a $15 digitally-distributed title than you can a full-fledged retail game, you know there is something wrong with this industry's pricing structure.
Remember those old and busted jokes about how many people it takes to screw in a light bulb? Well, I propose a new question; how many people does it take to review Castle Crashers? Apparently, four is the magic number, which is fitting considering this game is all about the multiplayer.
Overall Score: 9.0 (Fantastic. Negligible flaws. Otherwise very, very good; a fine example of excellence in the genre.)
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