Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Castle Crashers

It's been a couple of months since the thing came out and I got officially "over it" about two weeks ago but I should say a couple of words about the excellence of Castle Crashers.

This is probably only of interest to those XBox 360 owners who don't pay attention to what's available on Live Arcade. Those who read the occasional feed have probably, by now, already learned about Castle Crashers, downloaded it, played it, loved it, and put it out to pasture. But if by chance you haven't already spent time with the thing, the recommendation is this: you must play it now.

It's by developer The Behemoth. They're previously responsible for Alien Hominid, an old-school run-and-gun Contra-style shooter, most notable for its lovable art style, buckets of humour, and nun-punching difficulty curve. Hominid was cute but not terribly accessible; it's with great pleasure I say that Castle Crashers captures all of what worked in Hominid and makes it actually fun.

Castle Crashers is a beat-em-up in the style of Golden Axe or Streets of Rage. Very much in the style of: it in fact contains numerous references to its source material, including rideable two-legged lizards and little dwarves who will try and steal your gold. Gameplay consists of walking right, while beating things with your weapons. You have a pseudo-3D play field, but, in true old-school style, youl'll need to be vertically aligned with your opponents to hit them. Stand a couple of pixels above them or below them and you can flail ineffectually for hours without landing a blow.

This sort of game is best experienced with friends, and Castle Crashers supports full four-player multiplayer, either locally or online. It also brings a number of quasi-innovations to the genre, including RPG style levelling up and skill training (which, yes, I realise was sort-of kind-of in the classic River City Ransom). You can collect and choose from a variety of weapons, you can unlock "animal orbs" which are chubby little floating animals which confer passive bonuses, and you can find a range of inventory items including potions and ranged weapons. There's a bunch of alternate characters to unlock, as well - many, many more than you could imagine actually using.

It's mostly hilariously funny, with the exception of an extended "poop joke" in the second area, and the crisp sprite-based graphics are a visual treat. It's also backed up by a full orchestral soundtrack that's well worth listening to all by itself.

Right up there with Braid and Geometry Wars 2, this is one of the definitive Live Arcade titles. It's the sort of thing you can expect to see ported to system after system over the next decade or so, so you're going to get lots of chances to play it, but there's no good reason to wait - get it now, and have a whole mess of fun right up front.

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