Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Viva PlatforMonth! Battleblock Theater

First order of business: there's a crazy good game sale currently going on over at the Xbox Live Marketplace, with over a dozen different Capcom games and expansion packs at clearance prices. You don't need to be a Gold member to take advantage of these deals, so if you're in the market for a cheap copy of Street Fighter III or just need all the extra characters in Street Fighter X Tekken, here's your chance to clean up. (Speaking of cleaning up, Dustforce is also part of the sale, in case you needed to get in touch with your inner janitor.)

Things get a little, uh, hectic later in the game.
(Image courtesy of Microsoft)
All right, now to the second order of business. I missed Anne Lee's last two Game-Along months, so I figured now would be the time to make up for it by reviewing one of my latest acquisitions. Battleblock Theater was offered as a Games with Gold freebie last month, and I can confidently say that this is one of the best side-scrolling action titles I've played all year. Sure, the rough-edged, anarchic graphics (supplied by Dan Paladin of Castle Crashers fame) might be a turn-off for some, but the level designs are absolutely sublime, as clever and intricate as anything you'll find in the Super Mario Bros. series. 

You'll walk across clouds, push blocks over lethal laser beams, launch yourself into the air by stepping on heated coals, and trigger chain reactions of exploding cubes, all in pursuit of the green gems scattered throughout each stage. You'll need only three to escape the current level, but finding more will improve your grade for the stage and let you buy new characters. There are tons of customization options in Battleblock Theater, and while they don't change the core gameplay much, it's still a lot of fun to swap the hero for a pirate... or a wizard... or a koala... or a blue mushroom armed with a plunger.

The game's only serious flaw is that the fighting should either have been redesigned or removed entirely. Your character, who moves as nimbly as a gazelle when racing across platforms and leaping over spikes, has all the reflexes of a NyQuil addict while in combat. Admittedly, chasing after cats to steal their gems can be a lot of frantic fun, but most of your encounters with felines will end with you luring them into spikes or water, because melee combat is so utterly hopeless.

Fortunately, it's usually not a problem. Eighty percent of the time, you'll be leaping for distant platforms, shimmying up ladders, and stumbling across hidden paths, all while an eccentric announcer comments on your performance. It's simple, satisfying fun in the grand tradition of the NES, illustrating that when the designers at The Behemoth were playing late '80s classics like Super Mario Bros. and Mega Man, they weren't just enjoying themselves... they were taking notes.


  1. Ah, glad to hear you're taking part in this game-along, too ^^ Like you, I've missed the last few, so I'm going all in this time around. I've yet to play Battleblock Theater, by the way. I was excited about it after it was announced for release, but then it fell off my radar, as things like this are wont to do, I guess. I really liked what I've played of Castle Crashers, though, so maybe I should give this a try, too. (Although it sounds like the gameplay in BT is quite different from that found in CC--which is OK by me!)

    1. Yeah, this is quite different. You ever play those PDA rounds in Alien Hominid, where you have a series of simple platforming challenges that take place on a single screen? The game is a lot like that, except with much larger stages, better graphics (using "better" as a relative term; I'm not totally in love with Paladin's art style), and an announcer who needs a check-up from the neck-up.

      There are some parts of the game that are disappointing- fighting sucks, as was mentioned in the review, and the optional weapons are unbalanced and don't really add much to the gameplay- but I'm REALLY impressed with the brilliant level design, which is challenging without ever going overboard like Super Meat Boy would. Another reviewer said that the game wears on you after long periods but is refreshingly addictive in short bursts, and I'd have to agree... this is definitely one you want to consume in moderation, to make sure every bite is as good as the last.