Castle Crashers

Platform: XBLA

Developer: The Behemoth

Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios

Released: 2008

Rating: Teen

Written by Richard Pavis

I liked castle crashers, it’s fun to play either alone or with friends, and that is no mean feat.  When solo your playing against the level, and with friends your playing each other AND the level.  CC is smart enough to add more enemies when there are more players, and since each boss’ life meter is proportional rather than absolute, giving them more life behind the scenes is easy.  In some ways, CC could be said to be variations on a central premise.  Or, a bunch of clever Game Dev’s sitting in a room, thinking of clever bosses.

This is a game which is a perfect example of simplicity misscaled simple.

Absence of Story, Presence of Narrative

Castle crashers has a story, but the text clearly takes a backseat to the gameplay.  The entire story is told through non-verbal cues and body language.  The only people who speak are the trainers at the begining of the game.  It’s possible that they couldn’t come up with a steamlined way to include text on the screen, but I think the game is stronger for it.  Not including text where it would otherwise be included forces players to pick up on visual cues the wouldn’t look for otherwise.  Designing encounters and hazards to be self-identifying is both harder and more effective, and damn near required when one of the major side quests in uncovering dozens of hidden weapons and animal orbs.

Genre?

Following in the footsteps of golden Axe, Streets of Rage, and  Gauntlet: The Whole Series: Castle Crashers is a down a dirty beat ’em up.  If it aspires to something, it is to be the best beat em’ up it can be. The RPG elements, the simple story, and offbeat humour all contribute in their own way.  The graphics however, need some tweaking.  They are gorgeous on their own, but the 2D Isometric view forces you to try and find the right plane to line up with an enemy.  You’ll spend more time assualting the air just above of just below any given enemy, no matter how tall they are.  Attacking a dragon?  Don’t bother attacking the top of the head, wing or anything else.  It has a glass jaw, so unless you hit it in the special glowing spot, you just kidding yourself.  ProTip:  Unlike Shadown of the Collussus, most monsters have evolved past their need for such things, so just guess.

Two hugely important gameplay factors:

You must line up on the correct plane with your enemy to hit them

XP is based on the number of enemies struck, not the number of enemies killed

Now, while these initially will cause you some frustration, it is a quickly flattening difficulty curve, even for people not familiar with the genre.  It also speed up the flow of combat, since you will spend a greater amount of time moving to avoid enemy attacks, because you play be the same rules.  The game then becomes not just about how much health you have, or how much damage you do, you skill becomes a necessary element.  This leads directly into the XP system based on not damage, or kills, but hits.  The better you play the game, the quicker you will level.

Side Quests, or all one Big Quest?

In some ways it is unfair to say that Castle Crashers has no sidequests.  It has a number of different goals you can pursue in a level, besides simply beating it.  You can you can ry to find all the rare weapons and hidden animals.  Some weapons like the fishsword are only available in one level as a rare drop off a monster.  All of these sidequests are done on concurrntly with the normal level exploration, so they aren’t really a side quest, it’s just being thorough.

Sense of Humor, Sense of Timing

If humor is all in the timing then Castle Crashers gets it down pat.  The laughs are tight and in a common theme.  That theme may be toilet humor, all manner of creatures shitting themselves in fear, but like a good south park episode Castle Cashers carries it off well.  The fast paced fighting keeps you tense and aware , so you may actually miss some of the jokes in the background.

Difficulty

This is one of the best games to talk about difficluty, since nearly the entire game is based on the same basic structure.  Run, jump, attack, block, block,attackattackMAGICattackattackattackMAGICattackattackattackattack; repeat.  Then your combo starts to include arrows at range, bombs up close, and magic jumps immediately following an ambush.  The game provides you with moves and makes you develop your own combos.  Juggling enemies becomes increasingly more important, and being aware of other dangers while doing combos will become second nature.  This is the essence of the difficulty curve in Castle Crashers, because the game doesn’t scale up smoothly in terms of overall difficulty.  You are very likely to replay levels either because the enemy had a new kind of attack, or you simply weren’t doing enough damage.  A sharp spike in a difficulty curve can serve as a motivator.  A player suddenly challenged will be forced to adapt, and rise to the challenge.  If this happens every level, at best it will be Disgaea, and at worst Rise of the Silver Surfer.  If done properly a sharp spike every now and then can provide the ump needed to raise a players overall engagement level.  However this can lead to the pitfall of a sudden loss of immersion.  While it is possible for players to overlook such lapses, especially in action games minimizing these events is a good idea.

Multiplayer & Replay Value

You cannot get everything in a single playthrough of this game.  As such rather than asking whether you would play this game again, let’s try to determine just how many times you would play this game until you get sick of it.  Between the weapons and animals you already have a fair amount of depth, but you can also unlock characters through certain conditions.  Throw the requisite Trophies and Achievements on top and you have a fairly in depth experience.  To put it another way, this is the kind of game you can strive for completion on, and if you enjoyed playing it the first time, you’ll still enjoy it.  With multiplayer scaling as smooth as it is, replaying the game with friends adds enough complexity and crowd management, even an experienced player will still have to fight to win a kiss from the princesses.

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