Not only do I have nothing but good things to say about The Behemoth’s games so far, I can as go as far to say that if you don’t like Alien Hominid or Castle Crashers, I probably wouldn’t like you. Gamers my age have always looked forward to the day when we’d be able to play living cartoons, but never in my wildest dreams did I think they’d be as charming, fun and adorably violent as those aforementioned titles.
To add some further cred to The Behemoth, it’s the company that formed from the animated goings-on over at one of the best websites on the internet, Newgrounds.com. That said, they are also a small team. Fans who spent an overly long amount of time waiting to play Castle Crashers know these guys move at the speed of an, to put it nicely, independent developer.
But see, I played BattleBlock Theater last year at Comic-Con and didn’t really care for it. While it was animated with amazing fluidity, it was still very early in development, and the only thing they were showing off were isolated, competitive minigames along the lines of just about every supplemental mode found on about every Wii game… I’m SO goddamned glad I played it again!
Not only was my co-op play session today (on an old-school arcade cabinet, no less!) filled with more impressive level design and elaborate visual detail, it kinda struck me as the culmination of twenty years’ worth of 2D platforming. Sorry if that sounds like hyperbole, but it’s everything I want to do in that genre, with the look of a handdrawn cartoon. Everything you ever done, or wanted to do, in a traditional sidescroller is here, looks gorgeous, and is a goddamned blast to play through. Yes, even with total strangers on the Comic-Con showfloor.
To start, I loved the customizations you can pull off on every character before entering the game. Of course you can assign a rudimentary shape to your BattleBlock noggin, but you can also pick what weapon you bring with you (in addition to your cutesy punch, kick, wall-jump ninjitsu!) My partner chose bouncing grenades while I went with flinging discusses that land then give off a timed explosion.
So while last year’s mini-game challenges didn’t do anything for me, the co-op pretty much blew me away today, and in a way that New Super Mario Bros. Wii fell significantly short in, IMO. Unlike Nintendo’s admirable effort where players share a physical space, instead of getting in the way and sending plumber into pits they actually help each other out constantly as they work towards common goals and a billion other immensely satisfying mid-level milestones.
Imagine that, instead of stomping another player on the head and send him to his doom, you actually had a button to rescue fellow players on the brink of pit death. Plus, instead of jumps interfering with one another, you can jump – and double-jump – off of your buddies to reach the unreachable. Throw one another, explode one another, open doors for one another – BattleBlock theater may be a little “old school,” yet it’s the furthest thing from a mere left-to-right experience.
It’s difficult to describe the levels themselves, because my partner and I didn’t even come close to exploring all the options in the level. There’s a letter grade at the end, so you’re given ample reason to explode every block, open ever door, sail on every boat and find every gem. God, I hope the screenshots do that sentence justice.