BattleBlock Theater Review
Don’t play BattleBlock Theater’s multiplayer before you play campaign. Don’t. Don’t.
Because you’ll die. A lot.
The title screen might suggest multiplayer is the best way to go when diving in for the first time, given the background has bearded and fanged toons smacking each other around blocky levels, but playing multiplayer first is a mistake.
It’s not that BattleBlock Theater is a difficult game to understand (it’s not) nor is it a complex game to play (it’s not). It’s that your default weapon is throwing mines.
It might sound impressive but everyone else will likely march into battle with an arsenal of destruction ranging from the ridiculous to the ridiculously effective – grenades, desk fans, fireballs, paper-planes stuffed with C4, exploding frogs and so on.
Throwing mines is BattleBlock Theater’s equivalent of farting in the wind and hoping for the best.
So stop. Reset. Play campaign first and you’ll find that not only is it the mode that yields the currency needed to buy these weapons but campaign is also really, really good fun.
Hatty Hattington And His Army Of Cats
BattleBlock Theater is a 2D platformer that throws you through a series of increasingly difficult levels that contain gems and yarn to collect, in-game currency to unlock character customisation and weapons.
It carries strands of The Behemoth’s previous Xbox Live Arcade releases, Alien Hominid and Castle Crashers. You’ll recognise the art style, the sense of humour, the ease of control.
(You’ll also be rewarded with ‘heads’ from those games if you have a save file on your hard drive for them, so there’s that as well.)
You play a prisoner being forced through a series of increasingly difficult levels by technologically-advanced cats being ruled by your former friend Hatty Hattington, who is only doing this for his own entertainment. Obviously. What this means is The Behemoth can be silly – very silly – with the cutscenes and the dialogue, indulging itself with humour that isn’t too intrusive but makes the game far more fun to play.
Die Again And Again And Again
The way the difficulty scales up means that humour is needed to take the edge off any potential frustration.
It begins as a relatively simple affair. Detonate those blocks to let the paper boat fall into the water, draw the paper boat towards you by splashing the water, sail to freedom. There’s a minimum number of gems needed to unlock the exit, which are almost harder to avoid than they are to collect. It’s an easy ride through simple 2D platforming.
Slowly, and inevitably, this changes. The difficulty cranks up as death lasers, ice blocks and moving platforms are introduced, plus enemies who hunt you down and make your life misery. Gems become harder to collect. Some enemies run away with gems strapped to their back.
There’s no real punishment to dying in BattleBlock Theater thanks to the generosity of checkpoints but for those chasing high post-level rankings, fast times are essential. When you clunk your head against a spiked ceiling and you watch the potential for a fast time dissolve as your body drops to the fire coals below, you realise just how tough the game can be.
Frustration does creep in, mostly due to the enemies who chase you – other elements of BattleBlock Theater’s platforming can be learned, practiced and improved but the unpredictability of the enemies means sometimes you’ll just… well, die.
Frustration never dominates BattleBlock Theater, which is a challenging but breezy platformer. But The Behemoth finds ways to continue pushing your platformer skills.
Battleblock Theater’s Weapons
Just as the platforming looks to become perhaps too simplistic, mastery of your weapons is demanded too. Example: one gun fires plastic sucker-darts that can stick into walls, which can be used as temporary platforms to leap to freedom. Another example: boomerangs can nab gems for you, solving that last few minutes of head scratching when you’re beginning to swear it’s impossible to grab those gems.
Each chapter also ends with a timed level, putting your learned skills and weapon use to the test.
There are also hidden gems and secret areas throughout. There’s the occasional clue to where these hidden areas are – why is there a death laser firing in a corner that is clearly miles out of my way? – but we stumbled upon most by accident rather than design.
In short, to make a crude comparison, BattleBlock Theater feels like it’s somewhere between Spelunky and Super Meat Boy. It has the pacing and game structure of the former and learns towards the challenge and level design of the latter. It is, to be shorter still, brilliant.
BattleBlock Theater Multiplayer
You can save prisoners with collected gems in the gift shop, which is a fancy way of saying you can unlock new heads for your character. There are hundreds upon hundreds of them here – bandits, gorillas, vampires, mobsters, aliens and most that defy single-word descriptions. Yarn can also be spent on weapons, and it’s once you have an arsenal to be proud of, that’s when you can proudly march into multiplayer.
While campaign tests your timing and ability to solve platform puzzles, competitive multiplayer is about keeping on top of the chaos as players leap about firing weapons, hitting each other, avoiding the environmental obstacles that drift in and out of play.
What makes multiplayer so enjoyable is there’s a huge wealth of modes and maps to get stuck into. Challenge is a race through levels while Muckle is the traditional free-for-all, or at least as traditional as it can be when played with bandits and exploding frogs.
If those are staples, then other modes such as Capture The Horse (ride a horse to the opponent’s stable) and Color The World (switch as many blocks to your team’s colour as possible) that provide an odd, unique and engaging twist on multiplayer.
Ball Game is a particular favourite. A football drops in the middle of the level and two teams of two have to carry the ball to the opponent’s goal to score, which leads to a weird game of attacking the opponent’s goal and defending your own, albeit it with grenades and uppercuts. Messy, weird but undeniably a lot of fun.
Great Campaign And Party Game Multiplayer
BattleBlock Theater’s multiplayer is more party game than anything else. The weapons aren’t even close to being balanced – hence the problem with the minethrower being the sole choice for beginners – but even that doesn’t stop it from being enjoyable.
The question is how long the multiplayer will last, more than anything else. The sheer wealth of modes and maps will sustain it, plus there’s a level editor to extend its life, but multiplayer will only last as long as the gameplay remains engaging. There’s no real nuance or strategy here, and it’s only the lure of unlocking new heads or weapons and taking them into multiplayer arenas that will keep you engaged.
Even so, BattleBlock Theater’s multiplayer is the most fun we’ve had online in a long time and it’s backed up by a fantastic campaign. It’s hard to say which half of BattleBlock Theater excels as they’re both brilliant but that’s good news for us, as it adds up to a very, very good game indeed.
Version Tested: XBLA