Once in a while you play a game so unlike anything else you’ve played up to that point that you end up sinking dozens of hours into it, even if it’s not the perfect game. That game for me was BattleBlock Theater, the 3rd game from the folks at Behemoth following Alien Hominid and Castle Crashers, which was released in April 2013. BattleBlock Theater is a comedy platformer which nails both aspects of the genre. It spins a fantastical yarn involving the S.S. Friend-ship, catnappings and Hatty Hattington “best friend to one and all and the walking definition of a handsome gentleman.” It is simply a game that you are unlikely to forget thanks to it’s story alone.
The game introduces the story with one of my favourite cut-scenes of all time. The narration by Will Stamper is perfect in delivery and writing and the style of the animation establishes the theater setting for the game. It is one of those rare games that can actually make you laugh with the writing, often games that involve comedy can simply be awkward, crude or, even worse, boring, but this is a game that has consistently funny writing filled with charm and wit.
The gameplay stands out in my mind as a great example of modern platforming, perhaps not on the same level as the recent Rayman games (Origins and Legends) or the always stellar Mario series but the controls are crisp and responsive and the platforming is challenging enough to feel rewarding but not too challenging that it seems insurmountable. You create your own avatar and can buy and customize your appearance with gems (don’t worry, there are no microtransactions).
The customization options include different heads, such as Daft Punk helmets, a squid, pirates, and many more (they can all be found here if you fancy having a look http://battlewiki.battleblocktheater.com/Prisoners). You can also buy and change your weapon; your choices include an explosive walking frog, an airplane, and a vacuum. The available weapons allow you to blow up your feline captors, push them into fire and turn them into ice and smash them into smithereens. These options for destruction and chaos can lead to a busy screen but very quick and stupidly fun gameplay.
One of my favourite things about the game is the option for local co-op, at a time when games featuring this option were relatively sparse. Thankfully we have seen a resurgence in couch co-op with standout games such as Towerfall Ascension, Salt and Sanctuary and Enter The Gungeon. I was struggling through my first year of university, eating pasta and sauce on daily basis and writing essays the day they were due (such is the life of a student) and BattleBlock Theater offered myself and my flatmate a way to blow off steam.
My favourite aspect of the local co-op was the fact that you could be helpful, and try to beat the time challenges together and show some much needed teamwork… or you could be a dick. You can knock back your teammate which means you can drown them in water and push them into hostile toast, fry them with lasers and feed them to giant monsters. You can offer a hand by a ledge over spikes and as they jump up you can remove your hand and leave them to drop onto the spikes – savage, right? You can launch your friend quite a distance which is useful for those pesky gaps over obstacles but also handy if you want to throw your mate towards a cat that throws fire balls. These were the moments that got the biggest laughs from us and once you’ve played it’s easy to understand the appeal.
Alongside the story there is also an arena mode with mini-games that involve touching blocks to turn them to your team’s colour, capture the horse, and a riff on basketball featuring acid pits. Whilst fun, these mini-games never quite reached the moments during the story where we purposefully let each other fall and land in a Raccalope pit or shot each other with ice cannons as we tried to jump over a hazard. Just to clarify, you do NOT want to fall into a Raccalope pit.
If you haven’t played this game before I seriously recommend you give it a try and if you have played it before I recommend you go back and play it some more until 4am and your eyes turn square. It’s still available on Steam, Xbox 360, and, thanks to backwards compatibility, Xbox One. Do yourself a favour and go and download the game and try some of the best co-op platforming I’ve ever played. As the narrator once said, “hold on to your butts”.
Do you have any fond memories from this game? If so let me know in the comments below.