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Castle Crashers - hands-on

Games like Castle Crashers are why we love homebrew gaming. Developer The Behemoth excels at taking classic arcade concepts and reworking them for today's gamer in splashy, flashy cartoon fashion. Its previous title, Alien Hominid, was an homage to old-school, 2D side scrollers like Metal Slug. Similarly, Castle Crashers plays like nothing so much as a modernized love letter to classic four-player hack-and-slash games, like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with added vehicle sections, or a four-player take on Golden Axe.

We recently grabbed some hands-on time with this castle-conquering, co-op-focused Xbox Live Arcade entry, and we're happy to report the team's core design staples - simple, yet satisfying gameplay and sharp humor - appear to be fully intact for their sophomore effort. But more on the funny in a moment. First, let's see how this baby plays.

The action felt instantly accessible and arcade-y as we jumped into the armor of one of four knights, each possessing a color-specific elemental power; orange can spew flames, blue uses ice magic, red shoots lightning and green casts poison spells. In addition to the magic-making, each crasher has access to hack-happy weapons like swords and maces, as well as ranged goblin-killers like boomerangs and bows.

Side-scrolling our way through skewered versions of classic medieval settings - forests, suspension bridges, villages etc. -  was a hoot. We got to slash and spell-cast through a variety of beasts and baddies like archers with face-hugging hoods before reaching the first boss, a Trojan horse-like battering unit that occasionally unleashed soldiers from its belly. After dispensing of this bully with our combined might and magic, supported by the action-amping abilities to sprint and jump, we moved on to another level.

That's when things changed up. Introducing a different gameplay style from the hack-'n-slash mission, we now found ourselves mounted atop Bambi-like fawns as we raced away from a screen-filling, arm-flailing creature who wouldn't stop swatting at us with his massive mitts. The goal here was not only to avoid becoming this monster's lunch, but also to leap over logs and maneuver through doors while the screen pushed us forward. The level provided some frantic fun, but the coolest thing was that our mounts were literally scared shitless; our 'fraidy fawns ran like hell while projectile poo shot from their back sides.

Of course, this is just one example of Castle Crashers wicked and warped sense of humor. The entire game oozes with these types of laugh-out-load moments. From our charming little knights in shining armor to their clever death-dealing animations - the red knight's electro-bolt blasts enemies with a skeleton-revealing shock - we found ourselves loving Castle Crashers' style and wit as much as its addictively paced play. With 20 levels planned for the final release, we can't wait for this one to crash on our consoles this summer.

Mar 4, 2008

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