BattleBlock Theater Review

By Jonathan Barnes, 3 years ago
Every once in a while a developer comes along and gives you a game that’s like a box of chocolates. You don’t know what kind of chocolates the box holds, but you can guess that there’s going to be those delicious caramel-filled ones of happiness and joy that are chocked full of the chopped peanuts of wonder and merriment and that these precious nuggets of golden sunshine will occasionally be interspersed with the orange cream-filled ones of sadness and despair like a million rainy days and the ooey-gooey ones that contain a mysterious, gross substance of hot, boiling rage that builds inside of you like the earth-ripping eruption of the great Vesuvius, riling your insides until you’re ready to rip the box seam-from-seam, curse the name of the developer, and swear vengeance upon their houses, their parent’s houses, their parents’ parents‘ houses, their children’s houses, but not their children’s children’s houses… children should not be having children of their own… much less mortgages.

Welcome to BattleBlock Theater, the latest game from the hilariously twisted minds of The Behemoth.

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Stranded on a desert island, everyone’s friend, Hatty Hattington has been put under the spell of a cursed hat and been forced to take up management of the dilapidated, eponymous theater. Worse yet, all of his friends are being forced to take part in a brutal rat race to appease his nefarious audience of sadistic cats. Needless to say, abstract and wacky humor reigns supreme. Serving as the game’s writer and narrator, the hilarious Will Stamper delivers a voice and script like no other. His humorous words carefully cajole players along in their trials and give audacity to the craziest, funniest cutscenes of this generation.

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Throughout the eight chapters of the campaign, your (highly-customizable) character will be put through platforming rigors that will have many gamers flashing back to the days of the video games’ punishing eight and sixteen bit ancestors. Each chapter’s three acts (and their subsequent three scenes) present winding and twisting challenges that gradually increase in difficulty and complexity. The goal of each level is to acquire (at least) three green gems to unlock the exit. Bare in mind, three is just the minimum, as each level contains several more that (along with balls of string and the occasional golden hat bonus) can be collected to raise one’s final grade. As scenes, acts, and chapters gradually increase in difficulty, acquiring all of the gems and balls of string becomes more onerous, not to mention doing so in an acceptable time frame to nail the coveted A++ grade. As you might imagine, the combination of increasingly-difficult platforming along with the pressure of a final grade can make BBT a nerve-wracking challenge that may leave a controller or two with a few nicks and dents from frustrated outbursts.

At the end of each three-scene act, gamers are given access to an in-game store where gems can be used to “unlock” other prisoners, allowing for more customization options. There are four head shape subsets, each stocked with a plethora of different looks which allow you to make your prisoner almost as unique as you. Balls of yarn can be exchanged for weapons that run the gamut from a Frisbee-land mine all the way to a floating acid bubble and a sticky-dart gun. The in-game store also features a trading room that allows co-op partners and multiplayer combatants to trade heads and weapons.

The coup de grace of each chapter is the finale, a time trial of intense difficulty. The same rules of the previous scenes and acts apply, but a rigid timer clocks down mercilessly as Stamper’s comedically excellent commentary urges you on and/or chides your failure.

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While the difficulty does scale up rapidly, the challenges never feel insurmountable. The game does feature frustration peaks and spikes that start around chapter four or five… and that’s on “Normal Mode“. For those seeking a more psychotic robust challenge, BBT also features an “Insane Mode” which jacks up the difficulty to levels that might make loved ones fear for your controllers, if not your television and the walls of your gaming room.

In addition to the single player mode, BBT also features one of the most unique and comprehensive multiplayer suites to grace the Xbox LIVE Arcade. With more than ten different multiplayer game types (including an amazing “King of the Hill“ throwback that is reminiscent of schoolyard behavior), virtually every gamer to try BBT will find a mode to enjoy with friends, enemies, and frenemies. While each game type has its own unique variation and twist, the action remains accessible, addictive and reminiscent of games like Super Smash Bros.. This is all in addition to an incredible co-op mode that respecs the single player levels to account for another “inmate” and can be played either on the couch or via LIVE.

The fun doesn’t stop at multiplayer, though, The Behemoth has gone above and beyond, by stocking BBT with an incredible level creator/editor that will give ambitious, creative types the tools to make their own levels and the ability to upload and share them with the community. This level creation is even supported by some of the game’s achievements which will reward gamers who host a user-created level and play and rate ten others.

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The game also has the trademark art style that has made The Behemoth one of the downloadable scene’s best developers. Dan Paladin’s art direction accentuates the hilarious audacity of the game’s narrative and supplies sight gags that are on par (if not superior to) the game’s script.

If BBT has one weakness as a game, it’s that the uproarious story doesn’t feel 100% linked to the game’s action. While Stamper’s voice does deliver comedic quips and shots as each level is played, the game’s story feels disconnected from the actual gameplay. There’s very little character development and motivation, and the driving action usually boils down to, “I want to get through this so I can see the next hilarious cutscene.”

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Like most newer Arcade releases, BBT features thirty achievements worth 400G. Amongst these achievements are pops for beating the game on “Normal” and “Insane” modes (both in single player and co-op) as well as one for winning 100 Arena matches in multiplayer. Unfortunately for completionists, there is a viral achievement for playing with a member of the team at The Behemoth (or playing with someone who has already been “infected” by them) and several that will require some grinding; namely unlocking all of the prisoners in the gift shop by either purchasing them with gems or trading with other gamers via BBT’s in-game swapping system. Furthermore, at this time, there are several “Secret” achievements that have yet to be sussed out.

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While some of those achievements may take a good bit of time and the difficulty, yet in-the-end gratifying, challenge of the game‘s platforming rigors may turn some off, the good news is that The Behemoth have built a game that (like Castle Crashers before it) will most-likely remain on gamer’s hard drives for the long haul and be played at parties and gatherings well into the next generation. Its blend of irreverent humor and solid platforming will keep gamers playing, creating levels, and replaying the hilarious cinematic cutscenes. It’s truly rare for a developer to make games as funny as they are fun, but The Behemoth have done it once again.

The reviewer spent approximately twelve hours with the game, spread across the single player, co-op over Xbox LIVE, and the multiplayer. Over this span, he gained 15 of the game’s 30 achievements and startled his dog and wife several times with uncontrollable laughter and/or frustrated shouting. The copy of the game was provided in advance courtesy of the developer.
Jonathan Barnes
Written by Jonathan Barnes
Jonathan has been a news/views contributor since 2010. When he's not writing reviews, features, and opinion pieces, he spends his days working as an informal science educator and his nights as an international man of mystery.