don't tell me the ending to: Castle Crashers

Have you ever played a game in an arcade?  If so you’ve probably played the beat’em-up genre of Castle Crashers.  You move into the foreground, background, and side to side, and you beat up masses of enemies that walk in from the edges of the screen.  Each usually takes a combo or two to put down.  Blocking is optional, the best defense is to walk straight up or down out of the plane of the attack.

You will also have this nostalgia if you had any of the home console versions of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle games (Turtles in Time! Cowabunga!).

Castle Crashers is the most polished example of the genre.  Polished in terms of production values and gameplay.  However, is the best of the genre worth getting if the genre died out years ago?  Read on: my impressions as a compliment sandwich

+ Excellent Visual design.  Much like other recent XBLA titles, Castle Crashers has excellent 2D artistic design and a great musical score.  The characters are all an interesting combination of cute and badass.  Unlike most games, no one sticks out as ‘lame;’ the guy no one wants to play as.  This includes the initial 4 knights, and the couple of dozen unlockable characters.  All look fun, have personality, and are interesting to play as.  Since most of these are the enemies you’ll be fighting, that means those, too, are fun to see on screen.  The musical score is a great mix of thundering dramatic music, spooky techno, organ playing (done by a boss), happy whistling tunes while being attacked by bees, and everything in between.

– You’ll be hearing some of this music often, however.  The game’s first half requires at least some replaying of initial levels to buff that RPG-lite system.  If you had a very organized, excellent 4 player party this may not be the case, but the average party will run into trouble in the last couple of stages of the 1st half/continent (a half I have yet to beat).  This is doubly true if you are playing with new players, as you can’t take them with you to the end stages without buffing them in the early stages, letting them kill everything in order to gain XP.  It means everytime your party changes you’ll need to replay from the beginning or near beginning of the game.

+ Instead of dragging around new players with your high level primary, however, you’ll replay the initial stages as one of your MANY level 1 characters you’ve unlocked so far.  Each character levels independently, but has access to any Gold, Pets or Weapons you have found.  This allows you to continue to collect gold and find hidden treasures that benefit your primary, while still playing on a level field with the new guy.  While still repetitive, you get to experiment around with many of the characters and learn about their different attacks, where in some other games you may not have taken the time to.

– Unless you lose all of your progress.  This game comes with several GAME CRIPPLING BUGS.  One of which will delete all of your progress and data.  I posted on this earlier.  It is actually easy to get around and make sure you don’t lose anything and usually only occurs if you are playing on multiple 360’s (account transfering), but if you mess up you can lose everything you’ve done.  This is combined with frequent online dropping, and random/not random game freezes (exiting game / don’t buy Monkeyface if someone in your party already has him equipped).  The online dropping is most frequently discussed, but I’ve personally run into all of the others.  The game is buggy.  While a patch is in the works, that does not change what is available right now.

+ The gameplay is both nostalgic and polished.  It is also easier to get into and good for casual players.  The previously mentioned repetition does not kick in for a couple of hours, allowing new gamers to experience a fun romp beginning to end in a single run (and potentially replay it next time, just like your favorite old school brawlers that never saved your progress anyway).  It is as basic (left stick + X) or advanced (right trigger + face buttons; x, y, jump, air combos) as you want.  And advanced is never anything more complicated than seen in Xmen Legends or Marvel Ultimate Alliance.  Also, it has a few level design/gameplay call-outs to the classics of the genre including some tributes to Battletoads and Turtles.

+Speaking of which, the level up system in Castle Crashers is FAST.  You only distribute points at the end of a level, and you don’t need to read large paragraphs about different powers.  Instead, the different powers are attributed to the different characters (which you pick only at the very beginning of the match).  So you never get bogged down waiting for someone to pick the perfect point attributes (which they can always do later).  If you need to switch weapons or pets, you only do this between levels as well.  It means once you are in beating people up, that’s all you are doing until pre-designated intermissions.  It keeps the game’s pace up and makes sure everyone is having fun.

– Magic seems overpowered though.  Not necessarily a *bad* thing, but it doesn’t seem like a viable strategy to build an agility based character.  This results in lots of screen covering magic attacks that can obscure what is going on.  It may also just be the case that magic is just so fun to use that people generally level it up first.

+ Which leads to some great 4 player free for alls when everyone turns on each other at the end of a level, fighting for the right to kiss the princess.  These are some fun match ups that each play like some of the hardest boss fights in the game, but have no real consequences if you lose ;)

Well, these are my impressions so far.  More to come once I get a bit further or beat the game.  Certainly worth the $15 if you have at least one friend to play with (locally, for now).

2 thoughts on “don't tell me the ending to: Castle Crashers

  1. mmm… compliment sandwich. thanks for the review!

    i’ll probably buy it sometime… sometime when i actually have friends to sit down and play it with on a semi-regular basis :)

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