BattleBlock Theater is a side scrolling 2-D platformer released exclusively for the Xbox 360 by developer The Behemoth – the same company who created Alien Hominid and Castle Crashers.
We watch as the game opens on Hatty Hattington and his friends enjoying a leisurely cruise. But suddenly, the friends’ ship (they make sure to emphasize the friendship pun) encounters a storm and runs aground on an island. The mysterious inhabitants capture everyone and the player is forced to fight in an arena to free his friends; but for some reason, Hatty is watching with your cat captors. Why? You must compete to find out.
The whole basis of the game is to collect gems and bribes (in way of balls of yarn) so you may release your companions and buy new weapons. You may play the story solo or in a team of two; there is also a selection of 4 player co-op games which range from capturing souls, collecting gold and outright annihilation the opposing team.
And to top it all off, you may create your own diabolical levels which you may submit to the Xbox Community.
The Behemoth’s Monty-Pythonesque storytelling pervades the entirety of BattleBlock Theater, from the forced puns littered throughout the intermission films, the cartoon deaths of the player (spikes, drowning and being eaten alive) and the maniacal mazes which you must navigate to find more gems. It is this delightful mélange, combined with the hand-drawn graphics, that adheres the game into a comedic delight.
While the main goal may be collecting gems to pay for your friends’ safety, the challenge of finding all of the hidden items within each arena with the fastest time will keep you coming back for more. Each maze has a minimum of four gems plus one yarn ball, but there are also secret doorways which lead to more the green jewels. Finding everything is the goal: all the gems, the yarn and quickest finish will net a higher score – with A++ being the best. Luckily, you always have the option to replay an arena after completion. Add in the benefit of being able to smash your friends in multi-player in any number of animated ways; who could get tired of laughing as you watch their body parts scatter across the play field?
What sets this game apart from its predecessors are the level creation tools. You have complete freedom to make your mazes as easy or as sadistic as you can imagine. The full palette of the game’s death traps, monsters, cannons and special blocks are at your disposal. There is no limit on how complex a stage can be, but it would be wise to test it before you release it to the general public. Imagine what would happen if you created a maze, but forgot to put in an exit?
While the game’s stages (two arenas per stage) are amusing, after a series of twelve arenas, there is a mandatory time trial. This is one of BattleBlock Theater‘s downfalls; you only have one minute and thirty seconds to solve a maze that is harder than your average game field. The enemies are dispersed to block your way and if you waste time trying to fight them, you simply will not be able to finish in time. Watching the clock speed way as you panic your way through the maze doesn’t help either. These trials cannot be bypassed and must be solved before you can advance to the next chapter.
Each maze is fun to try to figure out the most efficient path through it, but be ready to die often. Even the slightest misstep can lead to your little avatar being skewered by a trap, slipping on ice and drowning or falling off an exploding block & being munched by a guard monster. The regular areas aren’t timed, but each time you die, your completion bonus is slowly being eaten away. You can always restart an arena, but the satisfaction of being able to finish the field in one sitting tempers the frustration of hearing your character’s death screams.
Lastly, as the game progresses, you will meet challenges which require a special piece of equipment or block to cross them; these can vary from wings, jet packs or even projection blocks. However, if you die after reaching the other side, you will respawn without that key. So, backtracking will be necessary, usually through a guarded area. This can be frustrating, especially if you didn’t take the time to clear the stage of guards. So, it is sometimes better to just to restart the stage.
BattleBlock Theater is a great game if you can overlook a few stumbles along the way. The cartoony animation and hilarious story help to cover up these gaffes when you look at the overall picture. After all, who doesn’t love to laugh at a good comedy? Plus, when you add the cathartic co-op modes after a long day at the office, this stress reliever is just what you need. Just sit back, crack open a few cold ones, some pizza and get your online friends to join you; this amusing escape is a great way to start the weekend.