terramantis's Castle Crashers (PlayStation Network (PS3)) review

A beat'em-up with a light dressing of RPG elements.

 Castle Crashers' art design and personality complement one another in an extremely enjoyable way. This 2-D side scroller is loaded with hours of fun game play and honest-to-goodness moments that will make you laugh. Castle Crashers has personality through and through. Also, its hack and slash gameplay are simple yet harmonize the other simple but cultivated features the game has to offer. So, sit back and enjoy the rollercoaster that is "CASTLE CRASHERS".

The simple breakdown of Castle Crashers is like so.

Graphics/Character Animation - 10/10
Fun Factor - 8/10 single player 10/10 with friends
Story - 6/10 (Not a problem I'll explain later.)
Controls and User Interfacing - 10/10
Learning Curve - Better than Fine
Sound - 10/10
Value - 9/10

Total - 8.83

The game starts. Even the way the introduction logos for the developers at the beginning of the game start can make you laugh and emphasizes this game's personality. Their ridiculous art style and animated interpretation of themselves into this art style to give one another a mid-air high-five can start the snowball effect of laughter this game will most likely deliver. From woodland critters that apparently have no control over their bowel movements to strange white teddy bears that wield fishes for weapons and ride giant "catfish" (which are taken quite literally), this game's ensemble is bizarre to say the least. One boss in the game is an enormous half-cat half-fish. It swims under water and dashes at you while the white teddy bear on its back emerges from the water like a periscope to find and strike you. Coughed-up hair balls ensue and cannon balls launched from a friendly boat all combine to make just one of the game's fantastical off-the-wall encounters. This is all done with charm and poise in a "Saturday morning cartoon" kind of way. The character animations are always flawless and the game is basically eye candy to watch unfold throughout.

The reason I gave the game a low score on the story is because there basically is not one and what is there is 20+ years of videogame cliché. You don't really know for what reason, but several events arise that comprise the game's story. You start the game and you're partying with your other castle crasher-esque buddies in some type of a banquet hall. Suddenly, a grey castle crasher knight launches tumbling through the doorway and topples down a staircase to his death…better go see what just happened. As you exit the banquet hall you see an "evil looking" cloaked character bullying the old king into a scare and taking some type of large white crystal that is atop his throne. Through the use of the cloaked character's telekinesis he moves the crystal from its fixture and moves it under himself to fly away on it like an airborne surfboard. Shortly thereafter, as you are in pursuit you realize that several princesses have been abducted as well. Your Castle Crashers Knight's pursuit of said stolen item and abducted persons are the events that arise in the story to fuel the fire of the quest. This is a pretty cliché narrative. Although, a lame attempt to have a complex story would only demean this game's lack of seriousness in its attitude. The game's story is not trying to be creative or say it is not a cliché of old "hey they kid napped the princess" game storyline incentives. It is being ironic and exacerbating the qualities that make those old games great.

This is part of the fun factor of the game. It has qualities and mechanics of old-school 2-D side scroller standup arcade games like: X-men, TMNT, AvP, Simpsons, Streets of Rage, etc. This game is an absolute blast to play with friends because of several different elements. For instance, there are the usual quarks like grabbing coins and riches off the ground before your friends and trying to share food to regain health between your group, but there are some elements that are a bit different and unique. For example, when you save one of the abducted princesses, if you're playing with friend/s, you have to compete for her "kiss" immediately after her rescue. This event starts an every-man-for-himself battle among you and all of your friends until only one is left standing to relish the spoils, a kiss…awe. Another example of something that is fairly unique to the old 2-D genre, but has been incorporated into many modern games, is the ability to revive a fallen teammate. When a friendly character has fallen in battle any of the other living teammates can come try to revive them. When this happens you can either hit the revive button as quickly as possible to just get them up on their feet quickly as possible or you can try to time your button presses as a white cursor goes back-and-forth on a bar with a heart in the middle of the bar. If you execute the revive perfectly with roughly five chest compressions right as the white marker is passing over the heart, you can revive the fallen member for nearly all of their health points. The "local" multiplayer obviously works fine and the online multiplayer works perfectly as well. Multiplayer adds to the fun and makes the game even more enjoyable than it is when playing by yourself, which is still pretty damn fun.

The learning curve is pretty perfect. The game is fairly easy at the beginning and the battle mechanics are not that hard. As you go farther on into the game the situations and enemies progressively get more difficult then they get exponentially harder for an overall great challenge. Playing by yourself makes the game much more difficult than compared to only having a single companion with you. As you progress battle situations get harder and bosses unleash a plethora of different mechanics to test your wits. As bosses get beat up and hacked 'n slashed they move faster and pull out all of the stops they can to try and defeat you. Some bosses add completely new mechanics to their fight as the battle rages on and the player must stay on their toes to see what is new…and what exactly is happening during the bout. Not only does the game try to defeat you with enemy mechanics but they might also try to visually overwhelm you as well. One thing is for certain and that is that a lot is going to be happening on your screen when you're playing Castle Crashers. From a "catfish" that vomits hairballs, to a cornstalk that screeches like a siren and launches popcorn at you, a boss that is a strange take on Medusa, or a knight that plays the organ that somehow has fifteen loaded cannons attached to it to fire at you, this game has a multitude of big bad guys and not just in their variety but also in their mechanics for you to overcome as well.

Combat in the game is simple but great. For the basics of combat you have combinations of weak and strong melee attacks, jump, items, simple throws, blocking, and magic. As your character progresses in levels you unlock new combat combos to use to vanquish enemies. Magic spells have a variety of different effects depending on your character. When you first start the game you pick between four different characters to play as. One is the Red Knight who has electricity as his magical power which is channeled for the duration of how long you hold down you magic buttons. The Green Knight bursts a cloud of green poison that hits your enemy then does damage over time to all that it hits. The Orange Knight launches a burst of flames that do initial damage then do more damage over time. Lastly, the Blue Knight shoots ice which does no damage and encases the enemy in a block of ice for a duration, but at higher levels can do damage as well. As you level up magic the system is broken up into 4 "tiers" which add additional effects to your casting abilities and enhance existing ones. For example, reaching the end of any tier will always increase the extension of your first main spell. Reaching the third tier will add a projectile that spans the entire screen, but only hits a single enemy to your arsenal. Furthermore, reaching the fourth tier gives you a magical burst to your jump that makes you hurt enemies around your feet when jumping and gives you some extra height.

Leveling up in the game is very simple and adds to the light RPG elements the game supports. When you are first leveling up you get two points to distribute amongst your four attributes; Strength, Magic, Defense, and Agility. Strength increases your melee damage, Magic increases your spell damage, mana regeneration rate, and does what I previously described, Defense decreases how much enemies hit you for and increases the amount of health points you have, and Agility increases bow and arrow damage and how quickly you swing your melee weapons. After level 20 you no longer get two points each level and you receive one point per level thereafter, to a maximum level of 256 (I believe). On a side note, I believe I was level 34 by the time I had first beat the game solo and I was level 23 when I first beat the game with two friends, just to give you an idea of what level you might be and how many points you could roughly have by the end of your first play through. Your first play through should clock you in around 5-8 hours. After beating the game once there is an "insane mode" in which you can continue to beef up your characters even further. Sure, you can max-out each of the four stats if you level high enough, but a leveling system is a nice addition to a 2-D side scroller. The addition of a leveling system adds to the character customization and your play style in the game. Weapons and animals add to this customization.

In the game you can equip two things, your melee weapon and an animal. Melee weapons can have a variety of different stats and "skins" on them and level requirements to be able to wield them. For example, one weapon might give -2 Str +6 Magic +2 Agi, so you have to have at least 2 strength to wield it for the other bonuses. As for the animals, they are a multitude of different things that float around and follow your character. Some might be a giraffe's head, a puppy, a beholder, or a fat chicken but they all have some sort of function or another. For example, the Fat Chicken gives its master a bonus to Str, Def, and Agi and the Giraffe gives increased experience points gained from combat.
Between the varieties of your preferred stats you want to increase and the weapons and animal you want to equip your character with there is a pretty nice level of customization to be had here.

The sound and music is a perfect fit into this game. There is not a lot to say besides it is amazing, crazy, and fun. Which is a good note to end on because that is really the theme this game is trying to stimulate.

All in all, Castle Crasher is a throwback to good ol' 2-D standup arcade beat'em up games with a dash of easily and quickly understandable RPG elements. It is still great to play by yourself and has a fairly good amount of challenge to be had, but should say "best played with others" on the side of the box (if it had one). Adding a few friends along for the ride only enhances an already amazing, crazy, and fun adventure. Castle Crashers' only real drawback, in the world of videogames, is that it is too short, but in the world of downloadable arcade games it is not problematic. If you're wondering if you should buy this game I almost just have to say go for it, I bought mine when it went on sale for roughly 7$ and I have no complaints whatsoever. Castle Crasher doesn't cost that much and if you have friends and a few controllers, or an internet connection, it is a load of crazy and awesome wrapped in a tortilla of fun and hilarious. Do yourself a favor…have some fun with some friends.

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