Castle Crashers Xbox 360, Xbox One, Playstation 3, PC Developed by The Behemoth Released in 2008
For a long time Castle Crashers has had a sort-of mystical status to me. It’s a game I played at a friend’s place once and only once. We played the first level and for reasons unknown to me he never wanted to play it ever again beyond that, and since it was his game and I didn’t quite catch the name, it was pure chance that I eventually ran into it again on Steam years later. I called in another friend and we gave the game a go.
Knights in smelly armor
Writing is not exactly one of the game’s main priorities: you are a knight, barbarians invade your castle, make off with a crystal, and kidnap all the princesses. You give chase and in doing so embark on a mad adventure through various fantasy settings. You’ll find yourself beating up devils on a volcano, fighting aliens, besieging castles both traditional and futuristic, and killing a lot of mad creatures. There is some coherent plot going on in the background, but few words are ever spoken, cutscenes are brief, and you would be forgiven for not keeping up with it.
The game itself plays as a 2.5D beat ‘em up RPG where you and a maximum of 3 others travel to levels and deal with hordes of enemies. You have light attacks and heavy attacks which string into a variety of fluent combos. The combat is really easygoing about timing, allowing you to string together near endless combos just by hammering buttons. Sometimes you might throw an enemy or stomp on a downed foe, which looks impressive, but the chaotic fights largely consist of just mashing the buttons.
Some encounters and bosses in particular require more tact, during which actual combos, usable items, and magic come in. Each knight has his own magic attacks that draw from a blue meter that recharges over time, and you can find items like boomerangs, bows, and bombs to help you in combat. As you level up and invest points in your stats (defense, attack, magic, and agility) you also unlock new moves to use. The bosses were actually the highlight of the game for me, making it a shame that getting to them takes a lot more effort than desirable.
You see, the core gameplay is actually… not that good. As you button mash your way through enemies you’ll often find that positioning in 2.5D is kind of a mess. Your attacks often end up missing because enemies are just slightly to the side where you are striking, which isn’t immediately apparent from the perspective the game plays in. Almost any hit knocks you down and this gets particularly annoying when enemies stunlock you by surrounding you in melee or continuously backing up while firing arrows. The stages are also annoying long and health items sparse unless you buy them ahead of time in shops, so often I found myself working through 20 minutes of fights and 5 minutes of unskippable comedy bits, only to die and be set back all the way to the start. And while the game starts off quite easy, enemies soon get really tough and the game, once imaginative and surprising, begins to fall back on old ideas and setpieces.
I am going to be honest here: we did not finish this game, simply because it got boring to play. The combat system doesn’t have the depth to support the actual length of the game and dealing with waves of enemies that all sort-of behave the exact same way started to outweigh the charm of the game, especially when it began to recycle special foes and moves. Even with a friend around, Castle Crashers just didn’t have the meat to it for us to carry it to completion.
Gameplay score: 3/10
Castle Crashers is a mad game that uses a cartoon art-style while being deliberately and undeniably unsuited for children. While the big-headed characters look fun and appealing, there is a lot of dark comedy here on top of an unhealthy amount of toilet humor and blood. I’ll admit I found myself entertained and surprised a lot, like a memorable stage in the forest that had multiple fake pay-offs leading to a really big surprise, accompanied by an absurd amount of poop along the way. The raunchy humor is something you either need a click with or be in the mood for, but the violence itself is really neat, with fluent attack animations and plenty of cartoon blood.
The soundtrack is a mix of battle themes and a variety of comedic tunes that may have been serious inclusions in another game, but come off as weird in the situations Castle Crashers uses them in. The map theme is particularly whimsical and reminds me of Rayman in a way, but it’s absurd to then start up a level and be immediately transitioned to over-the-top war music.
The Behemoth came up with a ton of imaginative stuff for this game and their love for details is remarkable. Already in the first levels you can see a war raging in the background as you navigate the level, including a mini-boss you will be fighting shortly after. There are a lot of neat extras worked into the stages and I am actually hesitant to talk about them too much because I don’t want to spoil the jokes. Bosses are also particularly large and feature a lot of animations and detail, but this presents some problems. During fights I frequently lost track of my own character as the boss took up a huge portion of the screen, and like with regular enemies you’ll find it hard to sometimes even hit them, despite of their mass.
Presentation score: 8/10
There are a lot of playable characters in this game, each with their own level and progression. While you start with the various colored knights, you’ll unlock more and weirder alternatives as you go, which tend to all have different types of magic too though there is some overlap. There are also some fun homages to Behemoth’s earlier game Alien Hominid in here and the game is good for entertaining a few guests, owing to its easily-learned control scheme and absurdity. On the other side of the coin, this leaves the game with a lackluster singleplayer experience.
The way I was introduced to Castle Crashers all those years ago is perhaps the most ideal way to play it. If you got a friend or three over and need something to play for a few hours, then this is a hilarious little adventure sure to entertain most. If you go at it alone or with a crowd that is too serious for the game’s raunchy comedy, then you will sadly find that it repeats itself a little too much and the simplistic combat can’t sustain the game all the way to the end.