Castle Crashers - It's got depth
You know a lot of people look at Castle Crashers and they love what they see. They see a bright, beautiful and colorful 2D art stylized world, that is well animated and full of character, but they also say to themselves that this is a beat-'em-up and that there is no depth to such games. Well this assumption is wrong in so many ways, especially for a game like Castle Crashers.
Castle Crashers gives depth to the game by adding in RPG-esque elements. Characters level up by defeating enemies and gaining exp. They can collect gold to purchase new and better items that usually come with stat boosts. The game is constantly giving you new attack combos, items and weapons, magic upgrades to keep the gameplay both in scale with the difficulty and to keep it interesting, and it works!
The presentation is top notch and it is apparent even at the opening credits; You see what looks like a character creation screen - 2 players are being made and it is the programmer (Tom Fulp) and artist (Dan Paladin) being entered in an old-school, arcade style character entry screen.
Other details about the game that give it that nostalgia feel are: The King pops on your screen to indicate when you have gotten a new item or attack combo, and many other things. The game leads you on with a giant gauntlet encased hand that points you to the next area, which is a lot like old-school sidescrolling beat-'em-ups would do back in the day. Characters in the background are usually brought to life through subtelty, and Dan Paladin, the game's only artist, has mastered the art of subtelty in his animations.
All of the details about this game give it a visual appeal and punch that a lot of games lack anymore: Charm. The game has a lot of it to go around too. Wait till you see animal orbs haha!
But the game isn't solely about charm and visuals, underneat this fresh coat of paint is a game that is begging to be played intelligently. It wants you to beat on its buttons, sure, but it wants even more for you to play it smart. With all of the different spell attacks, ranged attacks, melee combos and defensive manuever, the game has enough depth for players to get creative in a battle and strategically take out enemies, while simultaneously not punishing you (too much at least) if you want to mash the buttons. It really walks that fine line between button masher and strategic gameplay...
All in all though, Castle Crashers is a winner. As far as XBox's August Arcade blowout is concerned, they saved the best for last, and yes, I played all of the games this month (I own Bionic Commando: Rearmed, Geometry Wars 2, and Braid... I played demo of Galaga, wasn't for me) so I think it is fair for me to say so :)