BattleBlock Theater is one of those games that comes along and makes you think, “Wow, I hate my friends.” For the low price of 1200 Microsoft Points (somehow 1200 becomes $14.99) you too can experience the…experience..that is BattleBlock Theater available on Xbox Live Arcade. BattleBlock Theater (henceforth known as BBT) is the third game developed by The Behemoth studios following years of playable demos at conventions and press conferences. Behemoth’s first title Alien Hominid had one or two players fighting through levels in a completely 2D beat-em-up style of gameplay. Later came Castle Crashers utilizing the same 2D style and also playing like a beat-em-up only now with an extra axis of movement and character growth. This entry uses the same cartoony art style and poop jokes Behemoth has become famous for and even includes some basic fighting mechanics. What is strange though is that BBT is no beat-em-up, instead being a fast paced puzzle game.
Behemoth has added what every puzzle game has been missing, pig mounts!
The mechanics for the puzzles are more or less the tried and true platformer mechanics gamers have come to known. After briefly inspecting something, players should be able to quickly realize what exactly it is doing in the puzzle…and that’s a good thing! Spike traps hurt, catapults launch things, conveyor belts…convey things, and teleporters teleport. Everything acts as you would expect it to, and even those who only play the occasional platformer or puzzle game should be able to identify what they can successfully interact with. Where BBT gets especially interesting is the way it utilizes these puzzles. The goal of each level is to get from the starting point to the end, trying to collect at least 3 gems along the way to open up the exit. Each level contains anywhere from 5-7 gems and a ball of yarn. Collecting all of the gems and yarn gains the player a higher Grade on the level and a fast clear time can allow that to go all the way to A++ which rewards the player with even more gems. Gems are not only useful for completing a level but also let players “free” additional prisoners on the island (oh yeah you are competing in death matches on the island, that’s the basis of the story), which unlocks different cosmetic heads. While not important in beating the game it does fulfill that urge for completionists to “collect” them all, as there are over 200 prisoners to set free which will require a lot of gems. If you are not a completionist and suck at platforming puzzles, that is okay, you can still advance through the game due to only needing 3 gems to complete each level. Your score will be much lower and you will have fewer cosmetic choices but the game will not prevent you from progressing and I think this is a rather wise design choice. One thing you shouldn’t skip over though given the chance is Yarn. Yarn is the currency you use to bribe the cats on the island (yes, the prison guards are giant cats) to unlock additional weapons. While you don’t particularly NEED any specific weapon to complete a level, certain ones can come in handy, such as a dart gun that can make impromptu platforms when shot into a wall. Essentially there is a lot to collect and unlock but if you only want to play through for the experience and the story you don’t need to try and 100% everything. Now onto more important topics, like co-op play!
You don’t need to be fast, just faster than your teammate.
BBT has two campaigns as well as a few different multiplayer modes. The two campaigns share the same story progression but the levels are completely different with one campaign being built for single player and the other built entirely for co-op. Between the two there are literally hundreds of levels to play through. While each level will only usually last you a few minutes, some can take as long as ten or so minutes (it was a REALLY hard level!), and even at the speed in which you can complete them, that is a lot of content packed into one game. If you are no completionist and only play each level once you are sure to run out of content after a while. That is until you go online and discover this game comes with a level editor and allows for users to share their custom made levels with one another. As long as the community stays active there should be a constant stream of new levels available to play. In order to encourage such a community the game also has several multiplayer arena modes which are basically different variations of Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and Race to the Finish. While none of these modes are incredibly unique it must also be said that they are quite enjoyable and the inevitable chaos that emerges makes them all the more fun/aggravating.
Different colors mean opposing teams, though to be honest your color is meaningless when the grenades and fireballs start flying.
All in all BattleBlock Theater is a game that oozes polish in its overall design and you will be hard pressed in finding a better co-op game in the platformer genre. The single player is an enjoyable experience, but the game truly shines in its co-op campaign. If you plan on playing alone go ahead and take a look, but if you have a friend willing to play with you, go out and at least get the demo right now. Also prepare to make new friends as the co-op campaign will test how much you really care about somebody when they throw you into the spike trap for the fifth time in a row, giggling madly. Oh and I almost forgot to mention the game’s opening cinematic…