With Castle Crashers, not only has The Behemoth managed to create a title that is fun to play, but also one that’s genuinely funny the whole way through.
There’s something undeniably charming about games that are either true sequels or spiritual successors to games that were originally released as flash titles. Being the successor to Alien Hominid, Castle Crashers falls into the second category and fortunately, it retains some of the elements that made the 2004 flash game such a smashing success. With Castle Crashers, not only has The Behemoth managed to create a title that is fun to play, but also one that’s genuinely funny the whole way through.
So what is your motivation to attack a large number of underpowered enemies? Castle Crashers is set in a medieval world. During the introductory cutscene, we can see four knights at a feast in the king’s castle. Suddenly, a mysterious wizard arrives, stealing a precious gem and kidnapping several princesses. Immediately after that, the king instructs the four knights to retrieve the gem, rescue the princesses and defeat the evil wizard.
On the surface, Castle Crashers looks like yet another charming beat ‘em up. Thankfully, underneath its generic shell, the game features some action RPG elements that albeit a bit shallow, add depth to the overall experience. To those who have never played Castle Crashers before the main gameplay is quite simple: you move from left to right, attack incessant waves of incoming baddies, perform a combination of magical, regular and special attacks, collect gold and items and face gargantuan bosses.
As you kill more enemies, you gain in experience and once you level up, you get a couple of stat points and new combos. The level-up system is really basic (you get points to distribute among four statistics, including strength, magic, defense and agility,) but it serves its purpose well enough. In fact, the combo system isn’t that much complex either, encouraging you to alternate between heavy and light attacks to defeat foes. Nevertheless, when all these different elements fall into place, the game makes up for an irresistible package.
Defeating enemies also grants you coins which may be used to obtain various items, including animal orbs and weaponry. Animal orbs come in the form of little pets that fight alongside and assist you in battle by providing several bonuses and enhancements. Some allow you to regenerate more health when you grab food, others prevent enemies from moving and so on. Overall, there is a wide variety of pets to choose from. A plethora of weapons is also available and even when some are very generic (swords, axes, clubs, mazes,) soon enough, you’ll have access to a couple of bizarre-looking weapons, including light sabers, twigs and carrots, to name but a few. Enter one of the most enjoyable elements of Castle Crashers: its great sense of humor.
No matter where you look there’s always something funny happening in the universe of Castle Crashers. A deer is propelled by its own flatulence, the alien from Alien Hominid makes a cameo appearance, a knight gives CPR to a fallen companion in the middle of a hectic battle and the list goes on and on. Genuinely funny moments like these have been made possible by the expertly designed characters. Thankfully, the team’s painstaking attention to detail has paid off and even to this day, there simply isn’t anything quite like Castle Crashers.
From a graphical standpoint the game has a very distinctive look. The characters animate quite well and all of their fluid movements accentuate the thrill of the combat. Detailed environments include castles, pirate ships, lush forests, alien spaceships, a mountain covered in snow and many others. Naturally, the colorful, lighthearted graphics contribute to the ridiculously over-the-top moments that permeate this traditional beat ‘em up.
Apart from the main campaign, there are two additional modes: All You Can Quaff and Arena. In the former, you play against three other characters and your objective is to quickly alternate between two buttons to make your character eat as much food as he can in the allotted time. The latter, places you in an arena and you have to fight incoming waves of enemies in confined environments. While the presence of a few side endeavors is more than welcome, both minigames feel dull and uninspired. This is a shame because the main adventure is hardly repetitive.
It definitely helps that both the main campaign and the aforementioned bonus modes can be played with friends (either locally or online.) Unfortunately, only a few days after its release, the game’s servers are constantly empty. Although the inclusion of achievements and leaderboards add longevity to the game, they don’t make up for the fact that no one is playing online.
Sadly, this isn’t the only shortcoming. Castle Crashers: Steam Edition suffers from some minor slowdowns, especially when there are many enemies on screen. Additionally, while this port is really well put together, it took The Behemoth four years to release Castle Crashers on the PC and I have to assume that at this point, those who were interested in playing the game, have already played it on consoles. Finally, the controls are quite simple and respond precisely to your input, but playing with a keyboard takes some time getting used to, so I definitely recommend playing with a controller instead.
In the end, Castle Crashers is much more varied and entertaining than most beat ‘em ups. This is complemented by colorful graphics, fluid animations, a great sense of humor, reliable controls and a simple yet effective level-up system. Unfortunately, some distracting foibles (like the fact that there’s nobody playing online, framerate drops and a few uninspired bonus modes) make the console version the superior one.