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09 Sep, 2008

Castle Crashers Review

360 Review | Castle crasher smash!
Golden Axe may not have been the most cerebral of games around, but we'll be darned if it wasn't fun at the time. While age may not have been kind to this venerable beat-em-up, the fact remains that there's nothing quite as satisfying as smashing, crashing, and bashing one's way through hordes of enemies of lesser intelligence - there's a time and a place for our good friend Professor Layton, but as enjoyable as it is to calculate exactly how many return trips it'll take a ferry to cart a bunch of brainless sheep and hungry wolves across some river, it's not quite the same emotional release as generally whacking things for the sheer fun of it.

Sadly, like many things in life, a good beat-em-up is hard to find. For such a simple genre, it's apparently surprisingly difficult to design an enjoyable game. However, fans of the beat-em-up genre rejoice - mindless good-humoured, high-coloured violence is back, and thy name is Castle Crashers. Created by the same team that did Alien Hominid, the game is a refreshing step away from the otherwise generally bleak, brown, and grey world of the modern console into a lighter time, one filled with rainbows of colours, simplified gameplay, and woodland animals that, shall we say, display their fear in rather visceral ways.

Rocks hurt. A lot.

Rocks hurt. A lot.
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Overanalysing the gameplay is somewhat of an exercise in futility, so here it is at its most bare - the game involves pushing buttons very quickly, preferably in partnership with other people also pressing buttons very quickly. When things stop moving, a few quick steps to the right reveal more things requiring fast button pushing. While it's a simple concept and fairly fundamental, it works phenomenally well - as with the best beat-em-ups in the pantheon of vicarious violence, repetitive gameplay is somehow transformed from a design flaw into a massively desirable feature. Adding a fraction of complexity is the inclusion of various animal partners who offer a collection of powerups ranging from defence boosts to the ability to find hidden items to even a rather confused polar bear who randomly attacks both friend and foe alike.

Action is fast and furious, and while the individual levels aren't of epic proportion, there is enough length to make the game feel bigger than it probably is. While there's a slight nod to non-linear exploration through offering a map with various locked points scattered across it, level selection is mostly a linear progression from one to the next with an occasional back-tracking.

Ice, ice, baby.

Ice, ice, baby.
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The game is simple, staggeringly so. The mechanics could have a fraction more depth behind them - while there's a wide variety of unlockable characters, the only major difference between them is their facility to use magic. Some freeze your opponents, some blast them with fire, and some call down arrows from the sky like so much pointy pain. Apart from this and various art asset differences, they all feel almost exactly the same, especially so given that any character can use any weapon in the game.

There's a slight nod towards strategy through a variety of gradually unlocked combo moves, but these aren't anywhere near as important as learning the immediately available tricks to juggling opponents and otherwise incapacitating them. Of greater use is the RPG system - killing enemies and landing hits nets experience points, enough of which will level up the active character and offer user-selectable stat boost points to be distributed across four core categories; strength, magic, defence, and agility. In the same vein as the rest of the game, things couldn't be easier to understand - strength makes hits land harder, magic makes things go boom, defence makes your skull thicker, and agility makes your arrows fly faster.

The humour manages to walk that fine line between low-brow gags and well-timed comic delivery and somehow ends up being positively top notch, most definitely not in a sniggering schoolyard puerile sense. While there's a fair bit of scatological bon mots sprinkled throughout the game, it never quite descends into cheap driven toilet humour. One of the most memorable scenes in the game actually takes place in the background and involves a terrified deer defecating his way across the skies, crossing in front of a brilliantly illuminated moon. It's one of those things that really needs to be seen to be appreciated, and more importantly, actually has the comic and contextual timing to be truly funny.

Even the music bears a mention - while most games offer largely forgettable soundtracks (Shadow of Colossus being an example that proves the rule), the electronica-influenced soundtrack of Castle Crashers is positively top-notch. Whether it's the dark boppiness of the Thieves Forest or the choral crescendos of the theme, there's no doubt at any point what game you're playing. And, in a market plagued by budget audio, that's no mean feat.

Multiplayer is just as enjoyable as one would expect it to be, assuming nothing is taking place online - at the time of writing, online play is borderline broken with commonly reported connectivity issues. The issues have been acknowledged by the developers and plans for a patch announced, but no timeframes have yet been confirmed. For most, this forces the question: is this the deal-breaker?

Somehow, seals are always cute.

Somehow, seals are always cute.
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Surprisingly, the answer is probably no for most people. The game is still top-notch fun in local multiplayer, and given that most people will take at least five to eight hours to beat the game with one character on normal difficulty, it still represents excellent fun. Factor in multiple replays, a game-plus mode with a significantly increased difficulty level, and lots of secrets and unlockables, and it's still good value. While the lack of a generally playable online multiplayer facility may be irritating in the short run, a patch is pretty much inevitable at this point. It's only a matter of time.

Castle Crashers does two things, and it does them well. On one hand, it embodies everything that downloadable content should be. And, on the other, it embodies everything Braid isn't. There's no self-reflective analysis or highly interpretative game mechanics here - it's all scatological humour, cartoon violence, and sheer unadulterated skull-bashing fun. And, most importantly of all, it's polished to a gleaming shine. When taken in conjunction with other downloadable offerings, it's a model of what low-cost gaming should be.
The Score
A benchmark in downloadable content, even with all of its launch issues around online multiplayer.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related Castle Crashers Content

More DLC on the way for Castle Crashers
23 Aug, 2009 Brings with it chainsaw fun.
Get free DLC for Castle Crashers
27 Feb, 2009 Hurry, while stocks last.
Castle Crashers to get additional content
07 Sep, 2008 Now with added chainsaw.
1 Comment
5 years ago
i really like to play this game.... i love beat em ups and this one seems to be an instant classic
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| More
  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  27/08/2008 (Confirmed)
Publisher:
  Direct Online by Publisher **
Genre:
  Action
Year Made:
  2008

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