Stewart: Try BattleBlock Theater's multiplayer mode

BY SAM STEWART | APRIL 18, 2013 5:00 AM

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2D platformers are the basis of all video games for many of us. We were raised on Mario and Sonic, seemingly simple games that held infinite complexities in their mechanics.

The games seemed perfect, but there was one other thing we wanted: co-op, the ability to play simultaneously with friends. Eventually we got it, but it wasn’t quite right.

It turns out playing a precise platform game with more than one character on the screen is kind of tough, leading to more frustration than anything. BattleBlock Theater, aware of this complication, decides to embrace it, and encourages a little bit of competition. With simple controls, complex levels, and a good sense of humor, BattleBlock Theater is one of the most fun and unique platformers around.

BattleBlock’s story is just plain silly — there is no other way to put it. You are one of many travelers on a sightseeing expedition led by a man named Hatty Hattington. Everyone is having a grand time until your ship rides into a storm, crashing on the shore of a strange island ruled by cats.

The cats quickly capture all of the friends, enslave Hatty with a mind-controlling top hat, and force you to take part in a strange theater performance for their entertainment. The story is told through cartoon puppet shows with a fast-talking narrator who lays down jokes at a blistering speed. It’s mostly potty humor, but I found myself chuckling at a few of these short scenes because of their absolute ridiculousness.

The true enjoyment this game has to offer is in the play. Controls are amazingly simple. All you need to complete the game is to walk, jump, and punch. There are a few other commands, such as an interchangeable weapon, but you never need them to beat a level. Everything else is built into the level, adding a layer of variety to the easy controls.

Fire panels that shoot you high into the air, sticky panels that let you climb walls, and many more staggered across the eight worlds to keep things fresh. The later levels get a little crazy, but the game always moves at the perfect pace, never getting too chaotic and never feeling cheap.

There are also pickups like jetpacks and angel wings that change the way your character moves for a short time, such as letting him fly, to mix things up even more. To complete a level, you need to collect three hidden gems within it, but there are always more than three gems (and a golden ball of yarn) to find, and people interested in collecting everything will have a lot of work on their hands. The more gems you get, the more prisoners you can free, which translates into more characters you can play as.

But that’s only an explanation of the solo experience, which I recommend staying away from because the multiplayer is just so good.

Every level has a solo and co-op layout, with the co-op layout taking advantage of the fact that two players are present. You will have to use each other as platforms, throw each other across chasms, and pull each other up ledges to progress.

The game also encourages some friendly competition, allowing you to hit and push each other. Normally, this probably wouldn’t be very fun, but because every time you die you respawn next to your partner you can enjoy each death as a juicy piece of slapstick comedy. It really feels like the way the game was meant to be played, and it probably is.

The graphical style will be familiar to anyone who has seen a The Behemoth before. Simple and cartoony, yet well animated. All of the playable characters look the same aside from their faces, but the backgrounds are very detailed, and the fact that there is almost no heads up display can make you feel like you are watching a cartoon. The music is suitably goofy, but also very catchy. Even amongst all of the in-game chaos, it stands out and will stick itself to your brain.

If The Behemoth set out to create the game all of our younger selves wanted, they nailed it with BattleBlock Theater. Even though the game is wrapped up in slapstick and potty jokes, on the inside it is just a really good co-op platformer. This is a game I think anyone can pick up and enjoy, and I plan to share it with as many people as I can.

Reviewer Score: 9.25/10

BattleBlock Theater
Developed by The Behemoth
Platform: Xbox 360
Cost: $15
Released: April 3
Rated T for Teen

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