Expansive Overview: BattleBlock Theater

A story about friendship, betrayal, and a whole truck load of cats. Battleblock Theater is now available on XBLA, but does wackiness also constitute as fun?

Publisher: The Behemoth
Developer: Microsoft Game Studios
Release Date: Out Now
Format: Xbox 360
Version Tested: Xbox 360

Alien Hominid and Castle Crashers developers The Behemoth are back after a five year absence with their third Xbox Live Arcade Title, BattleBlock Theater.   

The game stars a group of friends shipwrecked on a mysterious island, captured by the local inhabitants and forced by their former “best friend to one and all” Hatty Hattington, to participate in deadly performances for the amusement of an army of technologically advanced cats – it’s an absurdly entertaining story arc, encapsulating a high energy platform-puzzle game that had me laughing from the very first cutscene.

The game is broken up into a series of performances; themselves divided into individual scenes and a climactic finale in which the player must navigate a series of perilous obstacles in order to collect green gems and open the level’s exit.  The player’s performance is then graded from C to A++ based on the amount of hidden gems and balls of yarn that are collected and the speed with which this is done. This gives you plenty of reason to revisit and explore every inch of the levels. 

The items serve as in game currency and can be exchanged for new weapons and costumes which are randomly generated for each transaction. 

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In true Behemoth style, there’s an absolute ton of extras to be unlocked and the player will most likely want to use the in-game trading system to barter with other gamers in order to complete the entire set.  There are also some special unlockables waiting for those that have played the company’s previous titles.

As well as the campaign, the game features a competitive Arena with a series of different modes, including a thematically unusual interpretation of a modern classic in “Capture the Horse”, a deadly take on the game of basketball in the form of “Ball Game” and the somewhat twisted “Soul Snatcher” in which plays must fight to steal each other’s souls for points.

All of this content can be played locally or via Xbox Live, and you’ll definitely want to drag a friend along for the ride as the game is far more enjoyable with company – mostly because you can play “co-optionally” (read: cooperation is entirely optional). This touches on something experimented in the Kane and Lynch series, whereby your partner can choose to help or hinder your progress.  For example, your friend could throw you across a large body of water or they can catch you if they try to make the jump yourself, or they can simply push you in to drown and use you as a makeshift stepping stone.  There’s no advantage or disadvantage to either approach, but it does lead to some tension and enjoyable banter between team mates when things get a little morally ambiguous.

If you don’t have friends with the game, you’ll be disappointed by the fact that, currently, the community isn’t very large and as such there aren’t a whole load of multiplayer games to be found on LIVE.  Couple this with a fair amount of time spent waiting around in lobbies for additional players and frequent disconnects when the tide of battle turns for the worse and the multiplayer comes up somewhat lacking.  However, I suspect these are just teething problems and the community will grow as the games I did manage to find were always enjoyable, if sometimes a little brief. Some even ran without any connectivity issues for both player and ranked playlists whatsoever.

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Don’t be put off by this, however, as the base game experience is extended by the inclusion of a Level Editor.  Players are given a blank canvas that can range from 15 to 40 squares high and 10 to 30 squares wide in which they can place all of the games tiles to construct their own versions of each of the various modes to share with the community.  Even at launch, the imagination of the community has led to the creation of some devilishly tricky challenges, the like of which we’ve come to expect from Super Meat Boy and I Wanna Be The Guy.  Given that the editor is easy to pick up and the fact that multiple creations can be strung together to form playlists, the more creative community members should be kept busy for quite a while, subsequently giving the rest of us more content to enjoy.

Final Analysis

As their release date trailer highlights, The Behemoth have taken their time in developing BattleBlock Theater and this extra investment shows.  The level of polish applied to the game is exactly what we’ve come to expect from the award winning developer and forms an extremely well put together and smooth running package. 

The amount of content included in the game, as well as the additional community generated levels, means it’s unlikely we’ll see any future DLC for the title, but, conversely, a pack of extra costumes and developer challenges isn’t an completely outrageous idea. 

In short, with a signature art style that gives the game a flair only The Behemoth could pull off, some genuinely intriguing puzzles, highly energetic gameplay and humour that is spot on, BattleBlock Theatre is a title every arcade gamer owes it themselves to check out… “because it’s like the best game ever.”