The Behemoth has had a surprisingly successful run so far ever since its upstart beginnings from Newgrounds-original-turned-console-game “Alien Hominid” and its hack’n’slash RPG-esque Castle Crashers. The latter having a decent PC port, eventually there would have to be a port of their most recent XBLA success “BattleBlock Theater.”
BattleBlock Theater’s story is probably one of the more difficult elements to describe, considering it is so ridiculously told by Newgrounds alum Will Stamper. Let’s just do it the easy and critical way rather than the comedic one that Stamper so happily narrates like a 1920s-30s filmreel: Your character and hundreds of others have been sailing along on a ship with Hatty Hattington, “the friend to one and all,” when the ship crashes into an island ruled by giant cats. When Hatty is kidnapped and brainwashed by a top hat (everyone’s one weakness in many games), the cats imprison you and force your character to engage in platforming antics that range from infinite bouncing from fire blocks, drowning in milk, and collecting yarn, all while you plot to free Hatty and escape.
The idea of the plot itself is entertaining enough, but it is told by the enthusiastic Stamper through puppet-style cutscenes at the beginning of each chapter. It has to be said that the humor may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I greatly enjoyed the madcap insanity that Stamper’s narration carries. His stream-of-conscious narration is very loopy and so random that I cannot help but grin and await hearing his further rambles later on in the game.
The gameplay may appear to be a simple side-scrolling platformer, but it doesn’t start off like that. Each chapter has over 10 levels each along with a few encore levels to feed the hardcore players, with one Boss level comprised of three levels set to a time limit. The goal of each level is to get at least three gems and run to the goal. That sounds easy enough, of course, until you realize there’s far more than three gems in each level.
After dipping your toes in, most of the levels actually have up to 7 gems scattered about the area. Gems are used in order to purchase one of the hundreds of unlockable prisoners (heads) to customize your character with. Even further, there is a ball of yarn to snag in each level. Yarn is used to trade with the cat guards for contraband weapons to use in the levels. To make your regular collecting gamer go berserk, there’s also a time trial involved. To make everyone else run to GameFAQS, there are sometimes hidden levels inside of levels. Even though each level is short and sweet, it’s very unlikely the average game will grab everything there is to snag in a level. Getting an A++ (all gems, the yarn, and finishing quickly) on every level is not easy, but it is extremely satisfying. If I had to make a complaint about the method of completion, however, it would be that there is no obvious set time for each level’s time trial. Super Meat Boy, for example, had its set “time trial” time for the player to understand how fast they need to be. It’s not a huge issue, since most players would probably take the time to explore the level first before speed-running, but it’s a missed hint for those who want to know.
The method of collecting and maneuvering around each level’s square-space ranges from bouncing on fiery molten blocks, riding boats over acid/milk, hopping through portals, managing through cloud blocks. What I enjoy most about BattleBlock’s philosophy is its desire to appeal to both the lone player and the co-operative player. During co-op play, there are many gaps and jumps that require players to work together (or tick each other off, but we’ll get to that in a bit) whereas the single-player mode has spring blocks to make up for it. The game never feels unfair in its difficulty, especially when things such as that are balanced for everyone. Of course, I did feel like it sometimes when I struggled in several of the Insane mode levels (I hate you, spikes).
Both single-player and multiplayer modes are fun, but multiplayer is hands-down where the game shines. Co-operative play through the story mode is just as entertaining as many other couch co-op games such as Super Mario Bros. Wii U or Rayman Legends, yet it has the same issues where players can just as easily screw each other over. Luckily, this is not as frustrating as Mario Wii U as players don’t have a life limit like normal. Multiplayer comes in multiple flavors through the Arena mode, which provides the usual “players beat other players up” spice of life with a twist in minigames like “King of the Hill” and my personal favorite “Color The World,” where you have to cover blocks in your team’s color before the other team does by the end. While many of them are simple concepts, there is so much fun to be had from playing amongst friends at a party or having to work with a random partner against another random team online.
The online play is much the same as Castle Crashers, but with much fewer connectivity issues than I normally had in the prior game. There are still a few games where lag was noticeable, but it wasn’t a detriment. You can play through the whole game co-operatively with someone online or play online arena matches. Even better, the game has a level editor and enables you to download and play user-created levels through the Steam workshop, so you will never be bored when you’ve finished up the main story levels and their Insane incarnations.
“This all sounds pretty much like most reviews for the game on Xbox Live Arcade, so how well does it do on PC?” you ask. Simple: It’s a great port. All keys are rebindable and even have optional keys in case, but you can use an Xbox 360 controller connected to your PC, which is my preference. This is a game that requires precise movements and it works on a keyboard just fine; I just like my hands wrapped around immediate buttons and triggers. Steam Workshop is quick and easy for all the levels you want to get and there is already a substantial community of level creators for you to dissect into. If there’s anything Behemoth has, it’s a loving fanbase who adores and garnishes their game with exceptional makeovers. One minor complaint has to be the ability to trade items and heads as well as selling them on the Steam marketplace. Getting a particular item I wanted was astonishingly difficult without having to buy it on the market, since so many players are happily selling off their special digital goods. I understand the social aspects and the developers’ intentions, but it’s a bit unfortunate that there are several overly greedy players wanting to overcharge for something easily unlockable.
Probably the most party fun I have had in a while and an exceptionally funny story to boot, BattleBlock Theater is a welcome addition to any Steam user’s library. The game’s platforming is precise and there is so much potential for increasingly crazy level design. Hatty, you’re my best friend.
Side-Note: Yes, it’s a great game. You want the great game? You got it! I’ve got several Steam keys to giveaway and all you have to do is enter into the comments section with what kind of customizable head you want to wear in BattleBlock Theater. Make sure your Yahoo username allows direct e-mails to your your e-mail address or I can’t send it to you. Good luck!