For those who have been crying about the absence of new brawlers, Castle Crashers has arrived to save you from your lamentations. The game is a hilarious adventure through medieval countrysides, enemy-filled castles, and venting volcanoes in search of true love[s], as well as the end of evil. It has some online issues, but storming a castle has never been more fun.
The CC campaign drops you in the role of a powerful, magic-wielding knight who must cross diverse terrain with his menagerie of pets in tow. Your quest is to hunt down an evil sorcerer who rode away on the castle's magic crystal, kidnapped four princesses, and left your kingdom in ruin. You start out with a basic weapon, a mild arcane power, and an unyielding devotion to king and country. As you cut through enemies, you will gain experience, level up, find new weapons, and learn new attack combinations that will make you a more perfect instrument of vengeance. You can deliver very satisfying melee attacks using the X button or deal slower attacks with extra damage using the Y button. By mixing and matching those two attacks, or adding in jumps, you can crank out satisfying combos to juggle enemies, stomp on downed opponents, or wail on groups of henchmen as you carve your way to an area's boss.
Bosses are not only grand in scale but also a fun challenge. There is a pattern to their attacks, and it requires strategy in addition to a flurry of attacks to bring them down. Early bosses are endurance tests in dodging and attacking, and later bosses ramp up the humor, as well as the challenge. Fights range from brawling on the back of a speeding carriage to neutralizing a lightsaber-wielding organist whose pipes spew cannonballs. In addition to the main foes, many encounters include a number of lackeys who will attack you while you are either trying to focus on the boss or otherwise stay alive. This extra fodder is frequently necessary to keep you supplied with health pickups (to stay alive), power-ups (to alter your character state to effectively deal damage), or gold (that you can use to later buy truckloads of goodies).
Alien Hominid, developer The Behemoth's previous game, was known for its punishing level of difficulty. Castle Crashers has benefited from better campaign balancing and strikes just the right mixture of challenge and enjoyment. Puzzles aren't too hard, and diverse enemies become progressively tougher as you progress in the story. Death in a level doesn't end your game or force you to tap into a finite number of continues. Failure to complete a level only kicks you back out to an overworld map. From there, you can choose to replay the section you just failed or select a previous level to look for weapons, call in friends, or get more experience to level up.
The role-playing elements of the game are simple: You get one talent point every time you level up. You can allocate those points to raise your strength to do more damage, increase your speed and improve bow-firing expertise, or enhance your magic to not only do more damage, but also replenish your gauge faster. Allocating points in between strings of levels allows you to customize your character so that he becomes the fighting machine you prefer.
The overall design of Castle Crashers creates an immersive, charming realm with dark sensibilities. Dan Paladin's art style contributes a lot to the oddity of the creatures. Ash-covered housing tracts have attitude. A vicious corncob boss looks like it could eat you whole. Verdant fields are full of blossoming roses that exceed both expectation and imagination. Truly, the world of Castle Crashers is a bizarre world, but one that is so much fun to play in that just looking at the variety of environments is mesmerizing. Behind the vivacious visual design is an equally eccentric audio design, mingling hard rock riffs into river battles, synthesizer melodies into arena showdowns, and Eastern influences into one of the wackiest sea battles since the debate over ninjas versus pirates set sail. The confluence of audio and visual composition seamlessly flows into level design with an attention to detail that is nearly unparalleled in the downloadable game space. Few games can hope to have as much charm as Castle Crashers delivers in the first level of the story. Each player is sure to find something amazing and amusing in nearly every corner of the game's hours of fun.
Despite buying, looting, or discovering new weapons, none of your accoutrements are ever so overpowering as to take the fun or challenge out of beating down scads of adversaries to progress through the story. An arkload of cute creatures is available to hunt, collect, and take along with you throughout your many [mis]adventures. Each would-be familiar provides a passive attribute bonus, a better chance of finding items, or a greater proficiency navigating level-specific environments. Throughout your travels, you will naturally accumulate an arsenal of weapons that would impress the realm's mightiest superpower. Each weapon grants certain bonuses and shortcomings that are best compared in the mouth of the armory. During gameplay, you can easily cycle through your portfolio of acquired power-ups or key items. You can eat a sandwich to temporarily grow into a monster of superhuman size and strength or sink a shovel into the earth to exhume treasures. You can also quaff potions to restore your health or lob bombs to destroy enemies and environments.
Even though the game crackles with darkly amusing energy, a few noticeable shortcomings keep it from fully rising to power. Thanks to how destructible the level decor is, many might not expect a stone to be left unturned when you tear through a level. Unfortunately, unlike Alien Hominid, huts, houses, and sandcastle columns cannot be razed on a whim. Sure, statues, walls, gates, and guardians are all destructible, but with a game as impishly indulgent as this coming from the same developer that made demolishing Middle Eastern parapets or ice cream shacks so much fun, it is more than a little disappointing not to be able to obliterate everything else in sight. Alien Hominid also came with a slew of additional platforming levels (PDA mode), but those challenges are noticeably absent from the list of extras here.
For those who have finished playing the story, options to play through as a different knight, another one of the many unlockable characters, or jump whole hog into the equally surreal minigames are all available. The two minigames can be played locally or online. The first, Arena, pits you against throngs of enemies in a Gladiator-style match to the death. The other game, All You Can Quaff, requires you to eat the most out of all the contestants. The latter is a button mashing minigame that is perfect for living a life of excess without all of the unwanted side effects. The games are fun and are great way to play with friends or to face-off against others if you can manage to get a game going without being unceremoniously disconnected. Connection issues are so pervasive as to limit competitive matches, drop multiplayer co-op experiences, and otherwise vex would-be bands of heroes from venturing into the magical realm of online.
Even at a price of 1,200 Microsoft points, Castle Crashers provides great value. The main storyline offers hours of bad-guy beating and princess-rescuing fun that it is sure to please. The ability to play with friends should make the experience richer, even if it is limited to a more local experience. As a testament to its entertainment, feature losses and some disappointing online play hardly slow this juggernaut of amusement down. This is an absurdly hilarious romp you won't soon forget.