by Matt Porter
reviewed on PC
Cruise gone wrong
Weíve all got friends. In Battleblock Theater youíve got hundreds of friends, and youíre taking a cruise on the SS Friendship with the lot, including Hatty Hattington, best friend to one and all. However it doesnít take long for the trip to take a turn for the worse, and you become shipwrecked on a mysterious island. Not only are you and your friends imprisoned by cats and forced to take part in dangerous challenges, Hatty Hattington now seems to be their leader. Itís up to you to platform your way across the dozens of levels, freeing your friends as you go, and eventually get to the bottom of whatís happening on this island.
All of the cutscenes are performed in a stick puppet style, and itís all very silly, but in a good way. It may look childish, but the entire family can get a laugh out of the narrator, whose quips and snide reactions to your performance keep things light hearted throughout. You do get the odd repeated line, particularly at the start and end of each level, but for the most part his lines are original, well written and excellently delivered. The cutscenes are fairly lengthy, but they give a good deal of backstory, and are wonderfully animated. Itís like watching a puppet show at the beach. Only better, because those are awful.
Thump or dash?
As for the gameplay, it contains some fairly standard platforming mechanics with a unique twist or two here and there. When you load up the game you are recommended a gamepad, and with good reason. Some parts of the game need the extra precision allowed by an analogue stick. Even so, some of these parts are let down by needing too much accuracy. A slight flick of the stick still seemed to be too much, sending me back to the start of a platforming section. The controls arenít quite tight enough when compared with the benchmark of Super Meat Boy.
Other than running and jumping, youíll be hitting switches, bashing enemies and eventually throwing objects around each level. The cats and other foes you find in each level are more there to be an annoyance than a real challenge. You can defeat them by hitting them enough times or by tricking them into falling into one of the many traps, but you donít gain anything for doing so, and itís often enough just to run past them. One type of enemy carries a gem, of which there are multiple in each level to collect, and he runs away as you approach. Another chases you relentlessly and gobbles you up in one go, sending you back to the nearest checkpoint. But the others are generally harmless unless they manage to knock you into some acid or a laser beam.
There are eight chapters, each split up into levels, followed by a time trial at the end of each one. Each takes just a few minutes to complete, and you are ranked based on how many gems you pick up, how long it took you to finish the level, and whether you picked up the hidden yarn, which is often quite tricky to get to. The collectables are used to unlock new weapons like a boomerang or a type of nerf gun, and are also used in exchange to let your friends out and doing so allows you to customise the look of your character. In single player, the levels go by fairly quickly, with a scattering of new mechanics added throughout. There are liberal checkpoints, making progress fairly easy, and you donít even have to complete all the levels in each world to progress on to the next one. The game isnít particularly difficult, which is probably a good thing, as it is fairly accessible to anyone who wants to play it.
And thatís important, because itís in multiplayer that Battleblock Theater really shines. The campaign levels can be played cooperatively by two people, and the levels are adjusted accordingly. Players can fling each other over gaps, and then lend a helping hand over a ledge to pull each other up. One player might have to stand on a switch to activate a bridge, while in single player they wouldíve had to put an object on there. Itís smartly done, and itís a lot more fun than playing through the game alone, if only for the potential step off a switch and let your buddy drop into some water while you giggle with glee.
There are a whole bunch of multiplayer modes beyond the main campaign that can incorporate up to four players as well. Variants of capture the flag and king of the hill exist, as well as a fairly fun basketball style mode where you have to throw a ball into the opposing teamís goal with varying obstacles in between. Thereís a fairly decent level editor, and youíre able to download maps that other people have made and play multiplayer modes on them too. Thereís a lot of content here for the price, and the community aspect means that even more will be added over time.
Late arrival, no less fun
Battleblock Theater came out on Xbox Live Arcade last year, and although itís taken its time to come to PC, itís just as welcome. Itís silly, but in a way everyone can enjoy, and most importantly, itís a lot of fun to play with friends. Which is fitting, because thatís what the game is all about: friendship. Oh, the SS Friendship, I see what they did there.
Huge amount of content, amusing and wacky story, a lot of fun in multiplayer
Not the best platforming around, single player doesnít have the same magic as multi