Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Castle Crashers

Post-Launch Review
Castle Crashers
Developer: The Behemoth
Released: August 2008 (XBOX) / August 2010 (PS3) / September 2012 (PC)


Castle Crashers is a sidescrolling beat'em'up brawler set in a fantasy world. An evil wizard steals a powerful magic crystal and the kingdom's four princesses, and the king sends four knights out to get them back. Wielding both weapons and magic, the knights fight their way through barbarian hordes, forests, rivers, volcanoes, deserts, swamp, tundra, and of course castles, in their quest to defeat the evil wizard and his minions.

At Launch

Castle Crashers earned average review scores of 82% on XBLA and 86% on PSN (not sure of the reason for the 4-point difference). Everyone loves the art direction, and the humour and gameplay were also well received. Reviewers were impressed with the game's replayability and co-op. The only major criticism was that the game had multiplayer connectivity issues (though these were resolved in a patch).

Post Launch

There were several updates to fix bugs (most notably multiplayer connection problems).
There are a few differences between the XBox and PS3/PC versions of Castle Crashers. Four DLC packs were released for the XBox. The King and Necromantic packs cost points on XBox, but are included with the PS3/PC versions (though you have to spend in-game money to unlock the characters and weapons, rather than real money). The Pink Knight and Blacksmith packs also include new characters and weapons.

The Good

Castle Crashers is hilarious in that silly random way, with all kinds of unexpected gags and visual jokes. One boss is a giant catfish - half cat, half fish. There's a Terminator 2 reference. Forest animals poop out of sheer terror of the giant monster in the woods (which is actually a surprisingly effective way to build up the monster's scariness without a single word).
Castle Crashers looks hand-drawn in a very sharp HD way. It uses a simple, exaggerated cartoon style full of colour. The art style plays into a lot of the jokes - for example, when you get electrocuted, you can see your character's large square skull and extremely simple skeleton with only a few bones.

The music carries strong, catchy melodies with some depth in the background. It's addictive and I can't stop whistling along as I play.
You can play through the entire game in co-op. Story progress is character-based, which makes it very easy to start a new game with a friend - just run a different character, and if you only play those characters together, you'll always be at the same level of progress.
Items, Unlocks, & Replayability
There are a ton of items and unlocks in Castle Crashers. There are three types: weapons, which will increase and/or decrease your stats based on the weapon (64 of them); animal orbs, which will follow you and grant passive bonuses (28 of them); and characters, giving you access to different visuals and functions (23 universal, with a few extra available as XBLA DLC, or difficult unlocks on PC/PS3).
Some of these are obvious and you'll find on your way through the game; others will require searching or replaying levels with unlocked gear, items, or animal orbs. And everything you unlock is available on all future characters (though weapons often have level requirements).
Levelling & Stats
Characters have four attributes: strength (melee damage), magic (magic damage, mana, new magic abilities), defence (health and damage resistance), and agility (speed and bow). It's a simple system, but still allows for some customization and excitement every time you level up.

The Neutral

Better In Multiplayer
In single player, you earn more experience since you're the only one dealing damage, but some fights are much harder - most notably, ones with lots of knockdown attacks. In multiplayer mode you won't be taking every single one of those attacks, so you'll be on your feet more often. You do have the tradeoff of earning less experience, but that's less important when you have many players working together.

The Bad

Some Levels...
The difficulty of some stages feels completely out of whack with most of them. A couple of stages feel like they're built for multiplayer and are difficult solo, but easy with friends (like the alien mothership). Some stages are just flat-out brutal (like Lava World, very long with a boss at the end - die on the boss, restart entire stage).

Keyboard Controls
Maybe this is just bias, but... I first played Castle Crashers a long time ago on the XBox, obviously using a controller. I tried the Steam version with mouse+keyboard and it kind of sucked. Maybe it's just because, in my mind, this is a controller game, but anyway I didn't like it.
Of course you can just use a controller, but plugging in a PS3 one won't work straight up, as I found out. You'll need an emulator to make Castle Crashers think it's a 360 controller.

The Verdict

Recommendation: play it.
I love Castle Crashers. It's fun, it's hilarious, it's easy to pick up, and it's highly replayable. Plus it's cheap, and totally awesome. Unlocking stuff is generally fun, and there's a lot of it.
I'm pretty much out of things to say. If you haven't played Castle Crashers yet, do so.
Though, one note: probably better to play on XBox or PS3 unless you have a compatible controller to use with your PC. And by compatible I mean that if you use a PS3 controller you'd better get an emulator for an XBox controller.

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