Monday, September 15, 2008

Castle Crashers, part review

The premise behind Castle Crashers is simple enough. You begin as your chosen knight, chilling at your home castle, when some barbarians bust in and snatch a quartet of princesses while an evil wizard steals the king's giant crystal. So, like any good knight, you set off to rescue the damsels in distress, defeat the evil wizard, and get the king back his crystal. OK, so the plot's not Shakespeare, but it doesn't need to be. Castle Crashers, from The Behemoth, is an old-school arcade-style beat-'em-up game in the same vein as Sega's classic Golden Axe, but with a modern coat of paint.

The first thing you notice is cartoony, hand-drawn graphics. They make the world of Castle Crashers a vibrant, colorful world that's genuinely fun to explore. They also, combined with the characters and bosses, make the game humorous. I laughed out loud the first time a woodland critter in the background of a forest level crapped in terror from a distant boss's thumping. In addition the graphics, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Castle Crashers also has one of the best soundtracks I've heard in a game in a long time.

Graphics alone can't save a bad game, but luckily Castle Crashers has great gameplay bordering on addicting. As I mentioned earlier, the gameplay is similar to Golden Axe. You progress through levels, beating the stuffing out of your enemies with light and strong attacks, magic attacks, and the handful of items at your disposal. What really sets Castle Crashers apart from the beat-'em-ups of the '80s and '90s are two elements MMORPG fans are familiar with; loot and levels. Killing enemies nets you XP; gain enough XP and you go up a level. When you level, you get attribute points that can be used to increase strength, defense, magic, and agility. And it always seems like, just when you're ready to quit, you find yourself saying, "I'll just play a little more, since I'm just a little bit away from gaining another level." As for the loot, you can find new weapons hidden in the levels or dropped by enemies. You can also find Animal Orbs. Weapons offer small stat bonuses, and often some stat reductions as well. Animal Orbs may grant a passive stat boost or have some other function, like making items drop more often or granting you more XP from defeated foes. What's more, as you progress through the game, you'll find items like a shovel that can help uncover new items. When this happens, you find yourself inevitably replaying every level you've done so far, gleefully looking for places to shovel in the hopes that you might uncover some new weapon or Animal Orb.

Castle Crashers isn't a particularly long game, especially if you've got friends to play it with. However, there's a ton of replay in the game. Aside from hunting down weapons and Animal Orbs, you have four knights at the start of the game. Each knight has a different elemental magic, so the game plays slightly different with each one. Plus, when you beat the first boss, you'll unlock another knight. When you finish the game with any of those characters, you'll unlock another character... and beating the game with those characters unlocks yet more characters. Plus, on the world map, you'll see arenas in certain areas. Win in those arenas, and you'll unlock more characters... who (mostly) unlock more characters still when you finish the game with them. Beating the game also unlocks Insane mode, a much harder replay of the game.

Ultimately, if you have an Xbox 360, and you can connect that 360 to Xbox Live (even if it's just a Silver account), you should absolutely buy and play Castle Crashers. This $15 (or 1200 Microsoft Points) Xbox Live Arcade game is better than a lot of $60 boxed retail games.

Final Score: A

1 comment:

Matt said...

I bought Castle Crashers and really liked it. I totally agree with your review.