Southern California-based developer The Behemoth debuted the Xbox 360 version of its upcoming side-scrolling multiplayer brawler, newly dubbed Castle Crashers, at its booth at Comic-Con this week. The game is another ode to the golden age of old-school gaming that puts a modern twist on some classic gameplay much like the developer's first title, Alien Hominid. Whereas Alien Hominid offered an updated spin on classic 2D shooters like Metal Slug, Castle Crashers sets it sights on the Golden Axe/Guardian Heroes brand of 2D side-scrollers that were heavy on hacking, slashing, and spellcasting. We had the chance to try out a work-in-progress version of the game, which is currently targeted for release on the Xbox Live Arcade.
Castle Crashers casts you as one of four color-coded knights, who are unnamed at the moment but are identifiable by their particular hue. You'll find blue, red, orange, and green heroes who set out on a mission to right a number of wrongs done to their kingdom. The intro cinematic to the demo finds a caped villain busting into a castle and jacking an idol. The four knights set out to retrieve the idol in the time-honored tradition of old-school brawlers, by beating the smack out of everything between them and their goal.
The demo on display featured the aforementioned intro cinema, a training room, a multipart level that ended in a boss fight that four players could run through, and a minigame dubbed All You Can Quaff. The training room is a great primer for the game's accessible mechanics, which are similar in spirit to old-school side-scrollers but feature a nice, modern update. You'll have two basic melee attacks--jab and fierce--which you can mix them up to perform combos. Double-tapping a direction will let you run or, if you hit an attack button, perform a dash attack. You'll be able to jump and throw, which, when mixed up with your melee attacks, can lead to lengthy combos. Finally, you'll have two very cool additions to your arsenal, an elemental magic attack and a special item attack. The elemental magic is unique to each knight based on its color. Blue is ice, red is lightning, orange is fire, and green is poison. The special item slot lets you use one of two ranged weapons--a bow and arrow and a boomerang--as well as a shovel that lets you dig for treasure. As you defeat enemies in the game, you'll gain experience and level up as you go. Increasing your level beefs up your character's strength, as well as defense and agility stats, which impact how you fare in battle. The benefits of improved strength and defense are obvious. Improved agility will increase your firing speed when using your ranged weapons or magic.
The level and subsequent boss fight offer straightforward side-scrolling gameplay that find you and up to three other players cutting a swath through the countryside on your quest. Frankly, the multicolored posse could probably be a touch more discriminating as they storm along, but you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. The minigame is a simple button-mashing fest that requires you to suck down more chow than your competitors.
Given the team's love of old-school games, it should go without saying that Castle Crashers handles like a dream. The knights are responsive and the game's combo system lends itself to hack-and-slash madness of the addictive variety. The leveling system fits well with the action and adds a good sense of urgency. For example, if you're getting knocked around and there are no life-restoring fruits around, you could luck out and defeat enough enemies before dying to level up, which fully restores your health. The overall presentation of the game is coming together fine and looks like it will feature a cool and quirky style that's becoming a Behemoth trademark. The visuals ooze personality thanks to artist Dan Paladin's outstanding art style. The clean line drawings are similar in spirit to his work in Alien Hominid, but they have their own unique look. As with Hominid, there are already some goofy touches peppered throughout the level that will cause you to do a double take. Audio in the demo was pretty sparse, given its unfinished state, and it featured mainly collision noises and an assortment of explosions.
Though what we played was an early version, Castle Crashers seems to have a ton of potential. The basic gameplay is pick-up-and-play, but there are some smart touches of depth in there as well. The game should be a great fit for Live Arcade thanks to its cool visuals, accessibility, and multiplayer support. Anyone hungry for some fun on Live Arcade should keep an eye out for Castle Crashers, which is currently slated for release on the Xbox Live Arcade early next year. Look for more on the game in the coming months.