GDC 07: Castle Crashers Updated Hands-On

We grab a sword and get to hacking in this humorous 2D side-scroller from the maker of Alien Hominid.

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Tucked away in the north hall of the Moscone Center at the 2007 Game Developers Conference is Castle Crashers, the follow-up game from developer The Behemoth, known for its previous success with Alien Hominid. The game, one of the many on display as part of the Independent Games Festival at the GDC, is a four-player action romp that features the same bright, cartoonish graphics, warped sense of humor, and action-packed gameplay as Alien Hominid, only this time in a medieval setting.

In Castle Crashers, you play as one of four available knights on a quest to do, well...chivalrous things. You know, bashing in the heads of goblins, rescuing princesses, and collecting loads of loot--that sort of thing. Each of the knights has his own primary weapon, such as a mace or a sword, and can access a couple of different secondary weapons, such as a bow and arrow or boomerang for ranged attacks. The heroes are also equipped with magical spells, and each knight has a different spell set. The red knight uses lightning-based magic; the blue knight can use ice; the green knight uses poison; and the orange knight has fire powers. The spells have different effects--the blue knight, for example, can toss huge spikes of ice, freeze his enemies temporarily, and shoot a massive ice fist.

The game begins with the knights enjoying some downtime in the main hall when, from out of nowhere, the door bursts open and a mortally wounded compatriot falls through and down the stairs. Bent on revenge, our multicolored heroes take to the castle to bring down the horde of bad guys intent on ruining their fun.

Gameplay in Castle Crashers consists of you and your knight pals clearing screen after screen of enemies in the side-scrolling adventure. The bad guys start off simple enough, but soon the enemies start piling up and really laying into you. This is straight hack-and-slash action, though, with the various face buttons controlling different weapon attacks. By pressing the A button, you can leap into the air and come down with a vicious aerial assault, and as mentioned previously, you can switch from bow and arrow to boomerang, which will stun your opponents briefly. To engage your magic, you hold down the right trigger and use the face buttons. Our favorite spell with the red knight was an extended lighting bolt that would send a jolt of pain to any enemies in its path. However, spells only last a few seconds before your mana runs out and you'll need to recharge.

The graphics in Castle Crashers feature the same style of squat, charming 2D character designs from Alien Hominid, but the various combat moves displayed by the knights show off a seemingly greater variety of animations than in the older game. The levels, too, have a great look--you'll progress from the innermost portions of the castle over wood-plank bridges and, later, run a gauntlet of bad guys ending in a boss battle with a huge orclike menace wearing a spike-laced shield on his back.

Through its charming characters and action-packed level design, Castle Crashers features a great sense of humor that kept a smile on our face the entire time we played it. For example, just after beating the huge boss described above, we had to slug it out with our fellow knights to win the heart of the kidnapped princess. Elsewhere, we saw a later level in the game that featured the four knights running from a huge beast chasing them through the halls of a castle...while riding delicate little fawns. It's good stuff and certainly good for more than a few laughs.

With multiplayer support for up to four players, charming visuals, a great sense of humor, and more enemies than you can shake a +2 bastard sword at, Castle Crashers looks like it's going to be a fun time when it's released on the Xbox Live Arcade later this year. Expect to see more on the game soon.

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