The Behemoth's last game - Alien Hominid - wasn't fun. Looked good, but wasn't fun. It was the gaming equivalent of taking your balls, resting them on a table, picking up a hammer then smashing them over and over and over until you sobbed yourself unconscious. The Behemoth's latest game - Castle Crashers - shares many of Alien Hominid's traits. It's lovingly drawn in 2D, it scrolls sideways, you have to kill everything in sight.
So, should you be reaching for the hammer again?
Fun - This game is fun. It's as fun as you remember old side-scrolling beat em ups being, and then some. It can often be funny (when it's not relying on gross-out jokes), and is always charming, from the teary-eyed sand monsters who guilt you for killing them to the heart-wrenching tale of a villain wedding gone bad and a love unrequited.
Good Looks - It may be under 150MB, and may only be going for 1200 MS points, but Castle Crashers is one of the best looking games on the 360. The game's dripping with bold, vibrant colours, Dan Paladin's art style has matured ten-fold and there's both ingenuity and genuine humour to found in nearly all the character designs.
Depth - There's a little more depth to Castle Crashers than your average, old-school side-scroller. Your character levels up as you progress, leaving you to assign attribute points in the fields of strength, magic, defence and speed. Not only does this let you tailor your character to your own play style, it lets you specifically upgrade your stats if you're failing a stage or a boss fight because you're too slow, or too weak. A wide variety of collectible weapons and animal sidekicks (who each give you a specific boost) to be found throughout the game also flesh the experience out.
Hack, Slash - I said "fun" before. The biggest contributor to that deserves its own spot. There's a simple, fluid joy to Castle Crasher's combat. Button-mashers are catered for, as the game's not terribly difficult, but a series of quick, easy combo moves are there for the more experienced player, as well as a satisfying magic attack that can be levelled up to become almost too powerful.
Rough Around The Edges - Castle Crashers has been a long time coming. It's as though they spent the extra time polishing the art, music and extra bits, and forgot to fix some of the more important stuff. Like cheap enemy attack routines that can see you killed by an unavoidable onslaught of ranged attacks. And paper-thin characters you need to line up perfectly to register a hit on. And stage art that's too busy, resulting in enemies you can't see, and deaths you can't avoid. Or times when you finish 4 levels, quit, then restart to find the game only remembered you finished 2 of them.
Online? Try Offline - The game supports 4-player online co-op. Or, least it says it does. I spent all weekend trying to play a game with no luck. Not a single connection. A patch is promised, and should hopefully improve things, but it stings when a game built around the premise of co-op good times doesn't let you play any (online, at least) co-op.
This is one of those times when it's important to remind you that our loved/hated sections aren't points. A game shouldn't be judged on how many pros there are vs the number of cons. Because I absolutely adore Castle Crashers. It's bright, it's happy, it's simple, it's fun. It is, much like Bionic Commando was last month, a text book example of how you take a tired, decades-old game style and make it great again.
They just need to get these online problems fixed. Soon, if at all possible.
Castle Crashers was developed by The Behemoth, and published by Microsoft. Released on August 27 on Xbox Live Arcade. Priced at 1200 Microsoft Points. Reviewed on Xbox 360. Played to completion of main storyline. Unable to connect to online multiplayer.
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