BattleBlock Theater is what I want to do on a Friday night. The first time I played it was in the middle of the work week. I stayed up until 2am playing. I don’t stay up until 2am when I have to wake up at 7am for work, not normally.
The second time I played Battleblock Theater was on a Friday night. A friend came over. We played until around 2.30am. I’m ok with staying up until 2.30am on a Friday night. He went home. He got home, signed online.
We then proceeded to play until 4.30am. I don’t stay up until 4.30am, not normally, not since university, really.
BattleBlock Theater is a game that draws you in. It makes you break your sleep routine.
It makes you want to plan your weekend around it, including it, everything to do with it. When you’ve got BattleBlock Theater, spending time with a friend means cracking open a few beers and laughing at the stunts you managed to pull off. Maybe the game’s designers — The Behemoth — never intended for you to use your friend’s body, mid-air, as a platform. Maybe they did. But you pulled it off and you both giggled either way. You smile slyly as your friend’s corpse becomes your bridge. You laugh as you both race through each world’s end chapter, because these specific levels are timed, while accidentally sabotaging each other’s intended path because you blocked their landing or bumped into each other on a jump. Fall to your death. Yell at your friend. Try again. Laugh some more.
BattleBlock Theater is funny without your antics too. It has a narrator who cracks butt jokes frequently. The rest of the humour is also downright silly, sometimes involving hilariously accurate jabs at cats. You are a prisoner, one of thousands, and the bodyguard-looking cats — complete with serious business sunglasses — attack you and keep you imprisoned, fated to perform in each of these levels for their delight. Sometimes the (fantastic) music even has cats singing in meows in the background. It’s all very ridiculous and delightful.
The first few levels are a breeze, a chance to get familiar with the basic buttons and concepts, but don’t let that fool you. This platformer gets seriously challenging. You’ll be making tricky jumps towards seemingly impossible landings while avoiding moving saw blades and, oh, by the way, all of the landings are made out of bouncy blocks that propel you at the angle you manage to hit it from. Then there are trickier areas that can be called more puzzles than they are platforms. You send your friend to hit that button there, making those boxes disappear, but then jump quickly to the other end to initiate the holographic bridge and then launch your friend to the other side while jumping off to make the bridge disappear. It’s not always straightforward, you might have to sit and construct a solution, and it doesn’t always just involve platforming skills. These levels are difficult, they’re funny when you screw up, and they’re fun to figure out with a friend as you two take turns dying in the most clever of ways.
Having a friend around for this game has another benefit, solving the problem of the mediocre checkpoint system (my only qualm with this game). If you are both jumping around and dying a whole lot, you’ll often get kicked back far enough to the last tricky few jumps that you were skillful enough to pull of once already. Using your friend to hold your place — so you can take turns trying different methods on the next platforming challenge — minimizes the risk of that happening. Fault checkpoint systems are frustrating. Once you’ve managed to pass the test of one section of the level, it feels unfair to have to repeat it just cause the next set of jumps is momentarily stumping you.
The hardest part of the game is what is effectively the “boss” level, which is basically a mad dash to get to the end while still trying to collect all the gems and yarn and the occasional bonus hat item within the allotted time. You don’t want to sacrifice the collectible items, because it’s what lets you get hundreds of customisable head options for your little prisoner, as well as weapons to defeat cats and slices of toast (yeah). Many expletives and cheers were shouted during the toughest of these chapter closers.
And then there’s a whole other realm filled with multiplayer battle arenas, races, challenges, and a general competitive atmosphere. You can race to steal the opposing player’s horse (which is actually a pig), or you can occupy bases in a king of the hill style competition. I liked races in what are basically ordinary levels, because BattleBlock Theater is best in its natural state. Though I’ll take any opportunity to ride the cute piggie horses. Because they are rectangular pigs that run to you when you cry for them, and only the soulless don’t find that cute.
The best “multiplayer” feature, though, is perhaps the level editor. I’m not sure I could spend ample hours building clever levels myself, but I’ll certainly play everyone else’s. You can rate them, comment on them, and move on to the next set. In terms of quality it’s fairly hit or miss as it stands, but there are definitely some gems in there if you’re looking for more than just the eight worlds The Behemoth offers you.
But those eight worlds have a lot of life in them. They’re all chock full of levels, but they’re also levels you want to redo to get the time completion bonus this time around, or redo because you’re introducing a new friend to the game, or redo to farm for gems and, therefore, new and funky heads to put atop your squishy little avatar. The pug face, the cat glued onto the dude’s forehead, the shark face; there are so many desirable options. If you only play through singleplayer, you’ll immediately want to go through the entire campaign again for the tweaked co-op-specific levels (the levels are unique in that they take advantage of your ability to boost a friend to hard-to-reach places or chuck them across a gap). BattleBlock Theater is a necessity in your library. I’m aware of the implications, and I don’t say that lightly. I mean every word.
Oh, and if you’re wondering, the third time I played BattleBlock Theater, I couldn’t find a co-op buddy. So I turned both my controllers on, and I played as both player one and player two. (Yes, I realise how pathetically lonely that is. I was desperate.) This sometimes required holding both controllers in my hand at the same time and performing two different moves back-to-back. You’d be surprised at how far I got. I certainly was. Now if that’s not dedication to playing a game, I don’t know what is.
Let’s just say this: no other game has ever driven me to the point of juggling controllers just to see it through to the end. But BattleBlock has me breaking a lot of my rules.