Solid Gold: BattleBlock Theater

This month, BattleBlock Theater by The Behemoth is available on Xbox360 as part of the Games for Gold program. If you haven’t seen, heard of, bought or played BattleBlock Theater by now, here’s why you should rectify your sorry situation and climb aboard the S.S Friendship!

If you’re not familiar with The Behemoth as a studio, they’re the team responsible for Alien Hominid and Castle Crashers, but for my money BattleBlock Theater is the best of the three, so if it’s worth checking it out on its own merits.

For those that like to break things down into neat little categories, BattleBlock Theater is at its core a platformer, the core mechanics are running, jumping and climbing. The nature of the stages and the obstacles would suggest it should perhaps be given the familiar label of “puzzle platformer” and although the alliteration of such a phrase rolls off the tongue nicely, it doesn’t really do BattleBlock Theater any justice.

For one thing, one of the real strengths of this game in comparison to most current titles is the depth of multiplayer and alternate game modes provided. Not only does it boast custom map-making and online play, alternate game types for up to 4-player local and online multiplayer that include fun twists on your traditional Deathmatch, King of the Hill and Capture the Flag with some unique original modes thrown in, but genuine local co-op in not only the alternate game modes but in the main story itself. In my personal experience, this has made BattleBlock Theater one of the best party games I own, allowing for the style of multiplayer and social gaming I grew up with when the Nintendo 64 made 4-player multiplayer an awesome reality.

As you might have guessed from the inclusion of a Deathmatch style game type, BattleBlock Theater also has more depth to the combat than you would otherwise expect from a puzzle platformer, with a variety of standard attacks (including the classic videogame uppercut) that serve not only to add to your platforming options but to make combat much more involved than the usual avoid enemies or jump on their heads options. While BattleBlock Theater is by no means the first platform style game to attempt it, The Behemoth has got the balance spot on and the depth of combat doesn’t seem to sacrifice the pace and sleekness of the platforming.

From a design perspective, BattleBlock Theater is genuinely impressive, seemingly none of the mechanics settle for offering a single functionality as even the collectable (and unlockable) weapons mostly serve both a platforming and an enemy killing purpose.

On top of that the weapons are unlocked by trading collectable balls of yarn to your Cat captors, giving you more variety in which weapon you choose to use for any stage or in any game type. Likewise the gems that are collected during the story stages can be used as a currency to buy more heads, effectively unlocking new characters to play as across the game.

As confusing and nonsensical as it sounds on face value, the highlight of BattleBlock Theater for me is the beautiful and hilarious story that ties everything together.

While the gameplay, the art style and the content is enough for me to want to play BattleBlock Theater over and over again, with and without groups of friends, the story, the cinematics, the music and the narration are all those special elements that really made me fall in love with the game from the start.

I give BattleBlock Theater full marks, and I highly recommend you pick it up on Steam or XBLA. If you’ve got Xbox Live Gold don’t miss out on grabbing it for free this month on Games for Gold!

 

In the meantime, I guess I’ll leave you with this…