BattleBlock Theater – Indie Game Review

Games like: Rayman, Decap Attack, Super Mario Bros. 3

TL;DR

Time played: 2 hours

Welcome to BattleBlock Theater where the entertainment consists of shipwrecked survivors put to the test of collecting gems, warding off Gestapo cats, all to the pleasure of the crowd. Developed by the Behemoth (Castle Crashers, Alien Hominid), you play as one of the lone survivors racing your way to the exit to live for another day. Or Act, if you will.

This here... this is the story.

This here… this is the story.

BattleBlock Theater is a tongue-in-cheek puzzle platformer where you’ll need to collect at least three green gems to open up the exit of the level. Scattered throughout the level are spikes, grenade throwing felines, deadly water (because who doesn’t drown instantly?), and golden balls of yarn. Each world, or act, is separated into scenes having you jump from platform to platform, performing aerial stunts, avoiding deadly energy beams, and discovering hidden walls. Your Xbox 360 controller works out of the box (even with the Behemoth tradition of highly recommending you use such an instrument by intro-ing the gamepad in the character’s hands at the beginning) giving you little to no tutorial and head first into the gameplay.

Wait... what happened to the last guy?

Wait… what happened to the last guy?

The worlds are set up much like Super Mario 3. Each world, or Chapter, is separated into different levels or acts and scenes. Each scene is displayed in a theater style overlay complete with curtains and silhouettes of audience members. I can’t tell if the audience is on your side or not. They cheer when you collect a gem and also if you die. Who’s to say? As you play through, you’re also greeted by a narrator. He describes the story in detail: wrecked ship, a strange island consisting of uniformed cats and a crazed leader known as Hatty Hattington, once a friend of yours (and everyone’s) now the controller of the theater. Throughout the game, he’ll appraise you for collecting gems, inform you on strange facts about yarn, and backhanded compliments when you receive less than the highest ranking for a single level.

Every level has you starting in a cage. Just like an animal!

Every level has you starting in a cage. Just like an animal!

The heart of BattleBlock Theater is its interesting platforming and collecting. To open the exit of each level you’ll need to find and collect three gems, but there are seven total per level. Most of the gems are easily accessible just by moving through the level. Others are hidden in invisible walls or are protected by an angry cat (or a fox maybe) which will have you fighting to the death with him before he’ll release it. There’s also a golden ball of yarn that’s hidden throughout each level. With collecting the gems you can visit the gift shop to unlock, or save, more survivors allowing you to customize your character and the golden yarn allows you to purchase new weapons. Collecting all seven gems, the golden ball of yarn, and finishing the level in a quick fashion will award you a badge of A++ which results in gaining two extra gems.

Hey! He's got that thing I need.

Hey! He’s got that thing I need.

The Behemoth always did an excellent job of character creation and funny storylines. Every character has a very unique personality with an interesting graphical style. All of the cutscenes are displayed using stick puppets and the narrator does perfect works of setting up the story. Overall, it’s just a fun game. Bits of humor and weird antics strewed throughout gives off a different environment that you rarely seen. Especially in the world of AAA gaming. Everyone wants to be taken so seriously today, it’s nice to see a developer that can laugh at themselves and bring you along as well.

Dangerous things are afoot.

Dangerous things are afoot.

As the game progresses, you’ll unlock more levels, collect more gems, save more survivors, and unfold more of the storyline. At the end of each chapter, you’ll face a series of timed levels that acts as your boss battle. These levels will relate back to the new gameplay mechanics that you experienced previously but with more dangerous effects. The challenge ramps up accordingly but there’s never a time when I felt overwhelmed. Even with some of the more head scratching levels, I easily overcame them by just bouncing around for a bit to figure out the right set of motions.

You can boat on the water. A paper boat that doesn't sink in the water... Hmm...

You can boat on the water. A paper boat that doesn’t sink in the water… Hmm…

If the single player becomes too monotonous for you, you can dip your toes into the multiplayer games. Played either online, with friends or strangers, or couch co-op, you can run through the single player campaign together. With a friend, you can throw each other around, use their heads as a platform to jump from, or work counter to see who can get the most gems per level. You can also play mini games such as “Ride the Horse” which is similar to capture the flag or King of the Hill. The Behemoth has always done a great job of creating a solid single player experience then coupling it with multiplayer aspects rather than the other way around. At the time of this review, BattleBlock Theater is about two years old so even if no one is playing online, you can still have fun with the immersive single player campaign.

Fly you fools!

Fly you fools!

BattleBlock Theater can become repetitive quickly. If you aren’t a fan of this type of puzzle solving or just platformers in general, then you won’t find much here to keep you coming back. Even with some the multiplayer games, playing online or with a friend by, the tune is the same level after level. Sure they’ll add a few things here or there, different power-ups or platforms, but at the end, it’s just a platformer. For the rest of us, there is a lot to collect and many items to unlock to keep a fan busy.

How about a level designer? Yeah, its got that.

How about a level designer? Yeah, its got that.

BattleBlock Theater is a wacky puzzle platformer that’ll have you smiling as you traverse through multiple levels, collecting gems, golden balls of yarn, all in an effort to save your fellow shipwrecked survivors and appease the audience. Well written, both the storyline and the backhanded announcer, BattleBlock Theater makes what a platformer should feel and smell like.

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