Review

BattleBlock Theater Review (Xbox360)

Sometimes when I’m playing games, my Mum’ll watch awkwardly over my shoulder for a minute, before getting bored and trundling off. Sometimes she’ll say “Why are you always shooting people?” or “Oh who’s playing?” when she mistakes FIFA for the real thing. When she peered into my room to watch Battleblock Theater, she saw the colourful, cartoon art style and patronisingly asked “Is this a kiddie’s game you’re playing?” and then she laughed when a character exclaimed “Oh goodness gracious!”. Five minutes later, she was still watching, and still laughing.

Battleblock Theater is hard to disengage from. It’s the weird, surrealist journey of some friends on their adventure boat led by some square-headed bloke with a hat before it crashes on an island where the inhabitants capture them and force them to perform dastardly platforming levels on a stage for their joy. There’s a quirky narrator whose random musings - that are littered with up and down inflections - will have you giggling, and an art style that suits it down to a tee.

Forget gaming's Citizen Kane, this is gaming's Macbeth

There’s far more going for it than just its humour, though. It’s a devious game - not punishingly hard (unless you’re playing on Insane mode, that is, or some of the created levels that have clearly come from the minds of people who can only be described as complete and utter soulless bastards), but tricky in its nature. You progress through the platform levels, jumping from hazard to hazard and using your fists or projectile to fight off enemies, collecting hidden gems and prizes as you do so, all with the aim of impressing your audience and receiving a higher rating at the end.

Its learning curve is fantastically implemented. You’re not punished for dying - other than in that you’re sent back to the last checkpoint and your final level time will take a hit as a result - and as a result you’re not afraid to experiment, much like a child who sees no problem with using their gums to evaluate the sharpest knife in the kitchen. New enemies, block types and hazards are introduced as you go at a gradual pace, and many of the obstacles in your path will kill you before you learn how to avoid them. You learn through failure, but never become frustrated, as you are never forced to fail too many times on the same objective.

Being able to customise your face like a chicken added a whole three points to the review score

There’s always little clues in the environment that point you in the right direction towards the hidden gems that you need to collect. Sometimes they’re obvious - like a wooden arrow pointing straight towards a suspiciously solid brick, but other times it’s more implicit, such as a catapult that seems to point away from the direction you should travelling, meaning any sensible player is going to immediately jump on it and see what the alternate route brings them.

Competitive multiplayer may not be where the game’s at its best - most of the modes allow you to disengage your puzzle-solving brain in favour of the more action-orientated moves - but it’s certainly where it’s at its most hectic. There’s traditional deathmatch modes - though traditional is a blasphemous word to use when talking of Battleblock - that simply task you to beat your opponents about the head until they fall from their bodies, either because they’ve drowned, been blown up by a grenade, or simply been battered to death.

Alongside this, there’s modes such as basketball, where you still spend most of your time battering other players upside the head, but there’s also the side goal of having to throw a ball into the opposition basket; much like Ice Hockey, then. It’s this quirk that makes it fun and embraces what makes Battleblock so great, and while I only played with strangers, it’s certainly something that would suit a group of friends looking for an easy-to-pick-up gaming treat.

We're the king of the castle, and you're the many times dead rascals

It’s probably not wise to enter multiplayer until you’ve invested some time in the story and unlocked more weapons, as the more powerful weapons do give players a heavy advantage over the lesser ones. Once in a match you can switch what weapon you’re using freely, though it does involve having to access a menu (there’s no quick way to do it as far as I could tell), and those few moments where you’re faffing about with a menu screen are likely to be moments where you’re getting your head kicked in and losing precious points.

I most likely did Battleblock Theater a huge disservice by using “my Mam who doesn’t really like games watched me play it for five minutes” as my opening praise, even though I’m sure that’s the kind of approval the developers were dreaming of when creating it. It’s a fascinatingly engaging game, drawing you in with humour and charm, then keeping you hooked with its intelligent level design that guides you to the hidden treasures subtly, making you feel like you’ve achieved something without ever forcing you into frustration. It’s a treat, and while you’re unlikely to replay levels that you’ve got max score on, the user-created and mutiplayer stuff means Battleblock is one that could live long on your hard drive.

Top Game Moment: The game's opening cutscene, and realising just how silly it'll be from there on out.

Platform Played: Xbox 360

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Comments

By Gale47 (SI Core) on Apr 10, 2013
Gale47
Goddamn it, is this thing going to be ported on PC?