Hatty Hattington and his friends were enjoying a nice sailboat ride when suddenly their vessel became caught in the middle of a serious storm. It crashed against the shore of a nearby island, and the survivors soon found themselves imprisoned by a race of giant cats that made their prisoners battle for their lives in a dilapidated theater. Meanwhile, Hatty watched in silence, sitting in a chair with a malevolently glowing top hat resting on his head
The story in BattleBlock Theater isn't especially memorable once you put aside the creepy imagery of homicidal cat people. What really sells the tale is the energetic narrator, who tears through one line after another of cheesy exposition littered with enough poop jokes to fill an adult diaper. Hopefully, you don't mind that sort of juvenile humor, or you're at least willing to look past it so that you can enjoy what is easily one of the most satisfying downloadable titles to arrive on the Xbox Live Arcade.
If you've been playing 2D action platformers for years, one of the aspects you'll appreciate most about BattleBlock Theater is its refusal to hold your hand unnecessarily. The interface and objectives are designed to communicate their purpose clearly, so a tutorial is neither needed nor provided. All that you must do to win the game is reach your friend, which you do by clearing one portion of the theater after another. As you work toward that end, you explore more than 100 carefully constructed stages that put your platforming and puzzle-solving skills to the test.
As each stage begins, you jump out of a cage that is positioned somewhere within an arena. Your specific goal is to pass through a glowing exit gate, but first you must collect a number of emeralds that are located somewhere in the vicinity. Collecting three of them is enough to do the job, but you can also gather additional ones to use as currency at theater gift shops. An oversized ball of yarn is also stashed in each zone--usually in a fiendishly clever place--and there are sometimes bonus stages that are hidden behind portions of the landscape in out-of-the-way places. Though you don't always work against a timer, you still want to hurry because completion time and any optional items gathered both count toward the letter grade that you are awarded upon completing a stage.
You encounter new hazards and more demanding situations as you advance. Figuring everything out usually takes only a moment, and then negotiating the additional obstacles becomes second nature until you're faced with a particularly devious area and find yourself pausing to ponder the best course of action. Such moments come up quite often, since BattleBlock Theater can be quite the difficult game. By the time you're partway through the sixth chapter, you're wall jumping, dashing, sliding, and double jumping like a champion, and you still might not be able to avoid the buzzsaw blades, spike traps, and grenade-launching cats thrown your way.
Fortunately, the normal difficulty setting includes a generous checkpoint system that prevents you from ever losing much ground. You can try your luck at some of the more challenging gauntlets a few times over the course of a minute, until you get everything right, and the feeling when you come out the other end is exhilarating. If you prefer a less forgiving system, try insane mode. It doesn't play a lot differently than its standard counterpart--until you die. Then, you have to collect all those gems and that pesky yarn ball all over again because there was no checkpoint to catch you when you fell. Considering how crazy things get by the end of the adventure, you'll likely be doing yourself a favor if you start with the easier default setting.
Although the charismatic narrator and the thrill of each new stage are ample incentive to advance toward the closing credits, the developers also included a bunch of unlockable content that lets you personalize your experience. In addition to a variety of special attacks that include vacuum cleaners and exploding paper airplanes, you can choose from one of four head types for your character. That's a nice touch since the head makes up about half of the hero's body mass. Most of the available options are wonderfully zany; there's simple pleasure in watching a ragdoll with a giant, triangular head and curlers leap around an arena while launching fireballs and narrowly avoiding homing missiles fired by oversized robots.
Personalized characters make sense in BattleBlock Theater, especially because the game features a robust selection of multiplayer modes. There are eight distinct events that place you in similar arenas with unique objectives. In one mode, you attack your foe to knock his soul loose so that you can carry it, while you avoid letting him do the same thing to you. The longer you possess your adversary's spirit, the more points you accrue. In another attraction, you must tag more blocks than your opponent does within the provided time limit. There's also a mode where you grab a ball and score hoops on your opponent's goal, while in yet another selection, you ride your rival's steed back to your goal to score points. You can also work with possible allies to complete stages, and even take a break from the action to trade collectibles with friends.
Multiplayer modes allow as many as four people to participate at once either locally or online, but it's also possible to interact with other players less directly. The game includes an intuitive level editor. A tutorial is included, but you'll barely even need it if you've already played through the game. You select dimensions for your desired arena, then place blocks and objectives as you see fit. Once you create a "playlist" that contains three stages, you can upload your creation and other players may vote it up or down. Your creation could even be featured as a top-rated community selection if enough people like what you've done. Though there aren't as many creation and sharing options as you'd find in something like Little Big Planet, the tools could keep you and others entertained for hours.
Even if you find BattleBlock Theater too challenging after the initial stages, you'll want to keep playing just so you can see where the story goes next, or because you're every bit as addicted to the platforming action as expert players are. There's no shortage of ways to play, whether that be alone, cooperatively, or competitively, and the capable level editor is the icing on the cake. Hatty Hattington and his friends may be living through an absolute nightmare, but you're bound to be so thoroughly entertained that you won't have time to empathize.'