BattleBlock Theatre review

BattleBlock Theatre, the latest output by The Behemoth, is equal parts brilliant, cutesy platformer fun vs mind boggling frustration.

Anyone who has been in close proximity to me whilst playing anything will tell you that I am a sweary gamer. I frequently talk out loud. I call collections of pixels all manner of obscenities, and my virtual demise is usually met with some very creative combinations of words. Considering that my deaths count on BBT currently stands at 1549 (and rapidly rising) you can imagine the sort of language that has been pouring out of my living room recently. I’m pretty sure the neighbours think we’ve got a lodger with Tourette’s. Now I’m not a violent gamer, and I’m not one of those nutcases that the news will tell you are created when you so much as look at a console. I don’t throw things or take out any frustrations on the real world. I simply will sit here and visciously tell an animated cat wearing sunglasses that he’s a fucking cuntfaced dickhead whore bastard who I hope dies painfully and melts his face off when I finally manage to hit him with my corrosive acid bubble weapon.

And I think that was exactly the target audience The Behemoth are going for.

If you’ve played any of their previous games you’ll know that the combination of a distinctive art style with chubby, cute characters, a slightly surreal, over the top narrative that frequently raises a smile, and cartoon violence go hand in hand. I absolutely loved Castle Crashers, and here’s its more of the same personality but this time in platformer format.

Platformers and I go way back. My first console was a NES, and thanks to growing up in South East Asia and a thriving local bootleg games scene I had the pleasure of owning about a million games. I’m not even underestimating. The fact that they were multicarts containing mostly unplayable versions, and I only owned about 3 cartidges was besides the point. Many happy hours were spent merrily bouncing between floating bricks whilst avoiding whatever was trying to kill me on that occasion. Some of those games were hard. Bloody hard. Especially when you played versions that looking back were probably officially unreleased, buggy as hell dev versions. And yet here I am, 20 odd years later, similarly captivated by the same basic game mechanics, but just with more advanced cursing.

For those of you who story matters to, BattleBlock Theatre has a simple premise. You’re at sea, in a boat with a load of your bestest friends. The bestest of them all is Hatty Hattington, a square-headed chap who likes to shower gifts on everyone. There’s a storm, you crash on a strange island full of cats, and through a series of unfortunate events a magical hat is placed on Hatty’s head. He is turned into an evil (but totally out of it) theatre master, with you his minion, racing through levels to collect gems and delight the watching cat crowds. The first story levels are easy. You sit there gathering A++ ratings, feeling that this will be a nice, simple distraction. But no, the difficulty rapidly ramps up, and before you know it you’re re-trying the same complex jump sequence 50 times, and repeatedly falling into the water below whilst cursing the mother of whoever created such a fiendish setup.

I have found that I’ve settled into a pattern now. Gone is the initial fixation on speed (which is the only way to get A++ ratings). Instead levels are meticulously traversed, puzzles observed and figured out before rushing in and permanently changing the level elements, and suicidal jumps made everywhere just to check that there isn’t a gem hidden behind a fake block. Gems and balls of yarn are important – they are used as the currency in the gift shop to unlock new characters and weapons, and as such are guaranteed to provoke OCD-like reactions in my brain. The characters come out of giant Gashapon machines… who can resist that? The exceptions to the usual pattern are the ‘boss’ levels, where time is everything – if you don’t get out fast enough, you die. Every collectable becomes a temptation which sucks precious seconds off your countdown clock, and decisions need to be made on the fly. Outside of the main story there are arena modes, there’s a level creator and UGC (which I’ve not tried yet), but best of all there’s the ability to play any of the above in online co-op. What’s better than sitting and swearing at animated cats for killing you? Sitting and swearing at an animated representation of your friend who… GODDAMN IT WHY DID YOU JUMP INTO ME THEN AND MAKE ME FALL INTO THE FIRE BEAM?!

Game soundtracks are always something I enjoy, and the Behemoth usually don’t disappoint. The highlight of the soundtrack for me has to be the secret level songs, which made me laugh out loud the first time I found one:

BattleBlock Theatre is undoubtedly deliberately frustrating, but it’s brilliant fun and is exactly the type of game that I wish there was more of – silly, witty, charming, visually¬†appealing, and utterly satisfying when you finally manage to crack that bit you’ve been stuck on for the last 15 minutes.

If anyone wants to join me for co-op and insults, feel free to add me on Xbox Live – I’m greywillfade.