Games for Lunch: Castle Crashers
Developer: The Behemoth
Release Date: Aug. 27, 2008
System: Xbox 360
ESRB Rating: T
Official Web site
0:00 I feel like I've been hearing about this game for decades. I played it for roughly two seconds at E3 and it seemed fun enough. But fun enough for an hour? We shall see.
0:01 I know this is game is best experienced as a multiplayer whack-fest (Dirty!) but, as usual during my lunch break, no one is around. Furthermore, there's not even anyone on my Xbox Live friends list. What are these people doing in the middle of a busy work day? You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone...
0:03 For a game that I thought was just about hacking and slashing, the controls and "How to Play" are surprisingly deep. Items, shops, combos, magic, leveling.... It looks like they really packed a lot in here.
0:06 After quite a bit of reading about all that stuff, we're on to the character select screen, which has a distinct The Simpsons Arcade Game vibe. I choose the green knight, because green is the most awesomest color.
0:07 My green guy is rocking out to some bards in a tavern, when another knight comes tumbling down a stairway, dead. The other celebrating knights run off to investigate, and I'm in control.
0:08 Running around the tavern, getting a feel for the controls. I find some gold and some fruit in barrels. What a good nutritional message!
0:09 I like how my knight kind of hovers during his mid-air attacks, but I really want a double jump. Then again, I always really want a double jump.
0:10 As I traipse out of the tavern, an evil-looking magician takes a crystal from a shivering-with-fear bearded king. Dead knights litter the floor. After the magician leaves, the king motions for me to go after him. I like how the story is told with expressive drawings and no words.
0:11 Flaming citizens flee from the flaming village as I run into my first baddies -- little guys clad in brown tunics and browner horned helmets. I'm impressed that they aren't total pushovers ... they dodge and roll and shoot arrows from afar, instead of just waiting for me to hit them. Really loving the animation, still.
0:12 Seems some horned enemies have taken some primary-colored princesses. Their big eyes are SO CUTE.
0:14 I can throw enemies into other enemies? Awesome! Reminds me a bit of the excellent Turtles in Time.
0:15 A computer-controlled white-clad knight helps me with the next wave of a dozen or so generic baddies. Once they're gone, the shop keeper stops cowering and opens for business. "Buy summin' will ya?" he asks. I get a couple potions, even though the restorative food has been plentiful thus far. I know they won't last.
0:17 On to the map screen and the next level, where the white knight is still helping me. I level up and get a "New Combo: A, A." It's not a double jump, but a nice midair helicopter spin. I'll take it! I also pick up a rusty sword to replace my axe. Why? Because it's there!
0:19 This jumping spin isn't very powerful, but it's good for when I'm surrounded and a good way to start juggling air combos. The somewhat freeform combo system reminds me of a straight-up fighting game a bit more than a hack-and-slasher.
0:21 I have to use my first potion when faced with a withering barrage of enemies. I feel like I'm spending a lot of time dodging, which is rare for a game like this. Also, I got a bow and arrow, another level up and a bad-ass mace!
0:24 A knight is bravely giving CPR to another knight in the foreground. This is the most heartbreakingly cute thing I have ever seen.
0:25 The boss is a giant battering ram with some generic brown guys inside. Also, there are cannons raining down fire from above. Sheesh!
0:26 The boss' bark is worse than his bite, as a barrage of heavy attacks takes him down rather easily. The level continues. Was this just a mini-boss?
0:27 These generic horned guys are getting a bit easy, especially when they're only in groups of three or four (as now). Still, it's so satisfying pummeling them to bits! The animation and sounds make it so. The inevitable decapitations are just the bloody frosting on top.
0:30 The princesses are tied to pikes in the background as a cheering crowd of generic guys watches. A bigger, buffer generic guy roars, then gets crushed as a bolted door falls over and reveals another guy that's 10 times bigger and buffer. A true laugh-out-loud moment.
0:33 The big guy is depressingly easy. His attacks are super-telegraphed, so I just have to stop attacking and move slightly when I see him winding up. I know it's only the first boss, but still. I open a big treasure chest and gold and gems start to rain from the sky! I rescue the red princess (the others have been taken off during the battle) and we lock in an embrace as a menu screen counts up my achievements. I get eight ability points to put towards strength, magic recharge, defense or speed. I load up on offense and defense: I'm plenty fast, and my magic spells suck so far.
0:36 The map screen paths diverge to a dock and a forest entrance. I've never been big on water, so it's "Into the Woods."
0:37 The music changes to old-school chiptunes. My extra buffness is already apparent in my stronger and higher-arced throws. A generic bad guy rides in on a green gator thing. I knock him off and ride it into battle myself.
0:38 New enemy alert: A slightly larger brown-clad guy who seems generally unfazed by my attacks. Luckily, the gator I'm riding has a powerful bite that can do him in.
0:40 I follow some music notes hovering in the bushes and now I have a cute little owl hovering around and helping me find more food than I could possibly need. The gator is making it really easy to tear through swaths of enemies. But then I'm forced to lose him when going through a thicket. Lame!
0:41 Ominous rumbling in the distance causes a background owl to let out a stream of bird crap, then fall over dead. Classy.
0:43 Y'know what's annoying? Enemies shooting arrows from across the screen. Y'know what's really annoying? Eight guys all firing arrows from all sides. Jump, don't fail me now!
0:44 A deer joins the projectile-poop brigade. This would be hilarious if I were, I dunno, eight years old.
0:45 New enemy alert: Fuzzy savages with permanently gritted teeth. They wither away into a pile of hair when they die. Creepy.
0:46 Even a giant bear is crapping himself at the ominous rumbling. OK. We get it. It's terrifying!
0:47 A little gremlin tries to take a bag of gold from the ground, pointing and laughing as it does. This is a mistake, as I use the opportunity to pummel him to pieces. Stupid gremlin.
0:48 I feel kind of bad taking out a generic brown guy who's just standing there hanging up his drying laundry. Not that bad, though.
0:49 The mini-boss is a giant, hairy savage that resembles nothing so much as a tiki torch. His only attack seems to be dropping smaller savages, and since they're pushovers...
0:50 ... the boss is quickly vanquished. Me and the forest animals hide from more rumbling in a log cabin. Suddenly, an absolutely ridiculously huge black hairy thing reaches its maw through and starts clawing towards us. I automatically hop on a deer and the chase is on!
0:51 This feels a lot like those ridiculous Battletoads jet-bike races, only instead of being mind-numbingly hard, it's mind-numbingly easy. The hardest part is judging the depth of the holes in the walls.
0:52 The animals and I jump off a dock and into the river as the monster reaches out in anguish. Now I'm swimming, and can only attack when I jump out of the water or stand on the head of a friendly shark or piece of jetsam. Other sharks, big puffer fish and floating vampire bats are on the attack.
0:55 Reinforcements! The king arrives on a ship armed with a massive cannon to help me take on a giant catfish that actually looks like a furry cat. He shoots toxic hairballs! Bogus!
0:59 Nice to finally have a tough boss. He's near-impossible to damage unless he's hit by the cannon. That means I have to protect the ship from the hairball, then make sure the cat lines up with the ship. The depth perception's still a little tough with 2-D drawings, but I manage.
1:00 I buff up my agility this time, but I'm gonna have to wait to see what effect that has.
Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? It feels like a truly modern update to the beat-em-ups I used to love as a kid, and the beautiful hand-drawn graphics don't hurt.
This column is based on a full downloadable copy purchased by the writer.
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