When a cruise ship carrying you and three hundred of your best friends – including Hatty Hattington, the bestest best friend there ever was – is caught up in a fierce storm and smash-lands onto an island populated almost entirely by tyrannical cats who may or may not have subsequently brainwashed Hatty with a sorcerous hat (HOW DID THEY KNOW?!), the only obvious thing to do next is negotiate your way through an increasingly elaborate and exceedingly hazardous series of game show stages to win fame as a BattleBlock Theater superstar. Not a prisoner. A superstar. It’s just that the budget’s a bit tight right now, so you have to stay in this luxury…ish maximum security facility but participation in the events is mandatorily voluntary. Or voluntarily mandatory. I get those mixed up all the time.
If you’ve played and loved any of The Behemoth’s previous games – including Alien Hominid and Castle Crashers – BattleBlock Theater‘s brand of zany, potty gag-infused platforming madness should be an instant to-buy incentive. Seriously, stop reading this and just go get it, and you can thank me later with a box of chocolates. If you’ve not yet played and loved any of The Behemoth’s previous games, then you might not have a soul, but BattleBlock Theater could save you.
The campaign’s premise is a fiendishly simple one – you complete a stage when you have collected three gems. Most stages have six or seven gems as well as an additional – and usually rather well hidden and/or hard to get – yarn ball that you can swap with the Theater’s feline guards for new gear. The gems can also be redeemed for player character heads, and with several hundred different heads to unlock, BattleBlock Theater is sure to keep completionists busy for several hundred years.
Obviously, the further you get, the more complex and lethal the stages, and the more tragically appropriate the ever-present commentator’s accompanying screams of “OH MY GOODNESS GRACIOUS!” as you trip and tumble to yet another meaningless death in some watery chasm of doom. Playing on the standard difficulty level, death is just a brief inconvenience before respawning, but playing on the “Insane” difficulty means starting the stage over. Choose your fate wisely.
The campaign can be played solo or with one other player, where the latter option features subtly different layout to accommodate co-op tactics. As recommended by The Behemoth, that’s the “co-optionally” kind of co-op and not the regular, helpy-helping hands sort of co-op, because there’s no penalty if you decide you’d rather shove your partner into enemies and flee, shrieking with masochistic glee, than get involved. And let’s be honest here, we’ve all wanted to do that ever since video games were invented.
The only bad thing I can say about the campaign is that it supports just two players, although I realise that having three or four players onscreen would be unmanageable mayhem. Besides, that’s what the “Arena” mode is for. Drumroll, please.
This mode features a selection of versus mini-games and playlists (both created by the developer as well as downloadable maps created in the game’s level editor) for up to four players locally or online, including a gloriously campy version of capture-the-flag with ponies and something that can only be described as a combination of basketball and mass murder. It’s easy to get into, and almost impossible to get back out of, plus lots of name-calling and swearing at each other. Gems are also earned in multiplayer, so there’s always an incentive to keep playing. It’s true – that’s why my review is only out now instead of two weeks ago.
Between the huge campaign mode and multitude of multiplayer modes with more being added every week, BattleBlock Theater is a whole lot of game for just 1,200 Microsoft munnies ($15). It’s charming, it’s hilarious, and it’s bags of the fun stuff.
[If you need further convincing, I’d recommend watching this super-fine launch trailer – Ed.]