BattleBlock Theater Review

Written by Mat Jones

April 12, 2013 | 12:30

Tags: #platformer #review #theater #xbla #xbox-360

Companies: #the-behemoth

BattleBlock Theater Review

Developer: The Behemoth
Publisher: Microsoft
Platforms: Xbox 360 XBLA
UK Price: £12.99
US Price: $15

There’s an aged design on display in The Behemoth’s new puzzle platformer BattleBlock Theater. Partially this is down to the extensive development time this game’s faced, being announced soon after the launch of 2008’s XBLA hit Castle Crashers, the team’s second foray into large-scale development. This newest game has been a mainstay at public events like PAX for years up to the release, but until a shock announcement two weeks ago we’d no concept of when it would actually come to home consoles. It doesn't feel like a game that anyone would decide to make now, especially not for XBLA given Steam's increased (and reported better) commercial viability for smaller developers, but that's by no means a criticism.

BattleBlock Theater Review
Click to enlarge

The perception of agedness follows an understanding of what the game is; it’s a classic platformer. You desperately try to figure out a path that allows you to collect enough gems to unlock the level’s exit. There are checkpoints, you die when you touch water or lasers or saws, you get a high score if you can complete everything quickly.

BattleBlock Theatre is compelling in the ways where it differs from your expectations.

BattleBlock Theater Review
Click to enlarge

Set on a lost distant island, you're one of many friends marooned after their (friend)ship crash-lands and they seek comfort in a rundown theater. It's not abandoned, though, it's home to thousands of highly sentient cats and an evil top hat that's placed onto the head of the crew’s best friend Hatty Hattington. It converts him into an unwilling caretaker for the building. You and the rest of your ship-mates are imprisoned and forced to compete in increasingly difficult obstacle courses for the amusement of the cats.

It's clearly zany, and it makes a concentrated effort to try and make that oddness into humour. All of this story, and the majority of the joke dialogue, is found in interstitial animations between levels that look like they're being acted out with puppets make out of card paper. Some of the soliloquy offered by the game's unseen, unhinged and unexplained narrator really hits and is hilarious, but most of it's handed out in lengthy pieces of exposition that, at a point, decreases your willingness to listen when you're being withdrawn from gameplay.

BattleBlock Theater Review
Click to enlarge

That's a testament to how excellent the gameplay is; It has the kind of level design that only years of refinement could bring. You explore this map, but it's as if every new checkpointed section is a brief unique puzzle for you to solve. Levels start off ramping you up and gradually introducing new features in the environment in a way that forces you to understand them before you can progress, but makes it immediately obvious how they're implemented into the world without ever telling you.
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