A wise, wise old man apparently once said that ‘A man’s home is his castle’ and I think you’ll find that this is very much still the case. However we have made certain changes throughout the years to our habitats whilst in turn not trading in on any of the virtues of living amongst stone. Sure, the defences might not be as overt as the three foot deep brick work and a portcullis primed with hot tar, but now we have a Yale lock and a bolt and chain, and that’ll do fine. Also the floors and floors and rooms upon rooms laden with staff and serfs have been a tad condensed over time but who wants to pay for all that heating and maintenance? The main thing that is wrong with living in such decadence is that such living attracts attention. My paltry front door doesn’t look like it has got a wealth of gold, silver and four bountiful princesses inside, but that is what I want you to think, because maybe then you’ll stay away.
The joy then of castles these days is that you can pretty much feel at home anywhere in the world, or doing anything. As long as there are moments or monuments around that will remind you of your place and reinforce those ideas of defence, strength and the willingness to protect that around. For those though still wanting the true authentic experience, Castle Crashers by The Behemoth might get you somewhere close.
Released two years ago on the Xbox Arcade, it has taken a year of hard graft for the small team at The Behemoth to essentially redevelop the game for the PS3. Even though it has been an arduous wait for those riding with Sony to catch up there are actually not many differences to either version. Just a few spots of DLC are now included and a new Volleyball mode which replaces a similar mini-game on the Xbox 360 edition, on the other hand it is a testament to the development team to have spent the required time needed to create a port, without seemingly rushing the process to cater for demand.
Castle Crashers both starts (and ends) in revelry. The first party of knights and serfs however is rudely interrupted by a guard being flung through the solid wooden oak of the entrance to the small parlour room, he then flashes and disappears. This isn’t your usual party. From that moment on the pace and action of this side-scrolling brawler never relents, as you travel all over some of the most varied and vibrant landscapes in the kingdom to track down those who crashed your castle.
All the parts that make up CC are a fine hum of harmony and melody. The Behemoth know how to put together a successful brawler. Two button combos, strong and medium attacks, magic, and power-ups all making their usual appearance and they are so finely balanced that getting into the swing of things makes the joy of CC begin swiftly and with assurance. Somehow amidst all these elements that are weighted on the nose, there are also some sneaky RPG elements planted into the environment. Your character will level up as you progress and you can decide which areas of his skill set you will beef up depending on how you like to play your particular side-scrollers. You can focus on defence and health, or up your attack and magic or balance all aspects of your character to best suit. The beauty of this simple RPG mechanic is that The Behemoth have not had to create a brawler experience specific to one style of play or made the mechanics too broad to match all. Instead as you play you’ll change the character to get the most out of the way you fight.
The fighting itself is so satisfying and gratuitous you’ll hardly ever notice that you’re only pressing two buttons for combat throughout the entire game. You’ll tear numbers of your opponents and they’ll tear numbers off you too, until like the faithful messenger at the party, one of you flashes and disappears. What truly makes all these elements of CC really come alive and make for an addictive and satisfying experience is the art direction of the game.
What immediately grabs you about CC is its bright, energetic and vivid colour palette. The sharp design just bounces and bounds around the screen filling your eyes by the cupful with tones of primary colours that never abate. All this is matched up with character design that is delightfully playful yet strangely dark at the same time. Enemies eyes will bulge after getting hit, but also their eyes will totally depart from their body if you get in a clean strike. Bosses are given that extra degree of deserved attention, tinged with the ridiculous. They will claw after you whilst you bound away upon a deer with lower bowel trouble. They will shed their black skin to give birth to more enemies, or they will paint new enemies to come after you, using a brush that they find inside their tool box, which is also their head.
It is a sense of humour and direction that is not unique to video games but it is so seldom implemented consistently or with such attention to detail that it has never held my attention for so long. CC sparks of creativity and craftsmanship at each bristling level that it is a let down when the air is slightly deflated.
The only issue I found with CC is that it has a skewed sense of depth. Whether it is an illusion created by the shadow or the frantic action, it is by far the most awkward part of the experience to try and search out the right plane of the action, especially when going for that crucial attack or going for a spike hit in Volleyball. This beach sport is of course the main arena where the logic of distance is utterly flawed, and what seems like a charming way to finish the level ends in frustration and annoyance.
However aside from this little niggle CC is a brilliant guffaw of a gaming experience. It pouts and flaunts its way through acres of sharp and clever gaming mechanics and some of the best character and art design I have come across in a side-scrolling brawler. Made for four players to enjoy online but just as enjoyable on your own, Castle Crashers holds in itself a wealth of shared and individual joyful experiences. With leader boards, arenas, volleyball, secrets and more to enjoy, CC will have your belly full.
MLG Rating: 9/10
Platform: PlayStation 3 (Xbox 360) Release Date: 31/08/2010
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a digital copy of Castle Crashers for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of four days on a PS3. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.