This generation of games has been missing something. Sure, complain about hard drive installs and “too much brown” all you like, but that’s peanuts compared to this issue: where has all the multiplayer gone? More specifically, where has all the local multiplayer gone? Playing online is all well and good – but trash talk is best delivered in person, not over a microphone. Castle Crashers, from the same production group that brought Alien Hominid into the world to remind us that we all sucked at video games, is a side-scrolling beat ’em up reminiscent of the coin-swallowing days of arcade yore. A simple action game designed for four players, Castle Crashers delivers simple, satisfying gameplay coated with a brilliant art style.
Castle Crashers weaves an epic tale of four brave knights out to save their king’s beloved princesses, who have been kidnapped by an evil wizard, along with a fairly large crystal that, other than seemingly wielding the power to raise the dead, is probably worth a sizeable chunk of money and tied the room together beautifully. The adventure consists of following this wizard and killing everything that happens to get in the way, including a few excellent bosses. With no dialogue, the story is shallow and violent – awesome! It’s the perfect set-up for a humorous action adventure, and while it really bears no importance, it provides some hilarious moments. The actual gameplay is similar to classics like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or River City Ransom, a saturated but proven genre. Levels are often crowded with dozens of enemies, who can be dispatched by melee weapons, magic attacks, and various items like bows or bombs. With a full group of four players, the action is pretty much constant, and coordinating with friends is great fun.
There are a few unique features that are layered on top of Castle Crashers. For starters, players can customize their character in a light roleplaying system – strength, agility, magic, and defense can all be assigned points when a knight levels up. There is also a plethora of weapons to discover, both useful and humorous, that provide buffs to certain specs. Collecting all of these weapons adds a lot of value to the game, as do the unlockable Animal Orbs. These are small creatures that hover around the knights and provide special bonuses, ranging from helping out in fights to finding other items hidden around the game. Beating the game will also earn new characters, and playing through again with these characters will unlock more characters, and so on. While the campaign itself is fairly short, these secrets and unlockables add a great amount of replay value and charm. While it’s best played with a few friends on a single couch and plenty of snacks, Castle Crashers is also playable over Xbox Live, as well as the included competitive minigames.
Movin’ On UpDan Paladin’s art is instantly recognizable to anyone who’s taken a gander at Newgrounds, a community for Flash animators and electronic musicians. The original version of Alien Hominid was born on Newgrounds, and so have a few other projects, including the hilarious Dad And Me. The soundtrack to Castle Crashers was selected from tracks provided by the Newgrounds community.The strongest part of Castle Crashers, however, is the presentation. The art, provided by Newgrounds magnate Dan Paladin, is iconic and appealing. The four colorful knights contrast with the more muted color palette of the world and foes around them, which helps when the screen is filled with enemies. Everything animates with a flamboyant, squiggly style that really breathes life into the basic gameplay. Castle Crashers looks like a comic book come to life, and really has to be seen to be appreciated. The music is also worth mentioning; an eclectic collection of electronic music that, while a little strange in a medieval setting at first, provides an excellent backdrop to the over-the-top action. Unfortunately, there are a few hitches here and there – while it is a slick production for the most part, there are a few glitches that hinder the experience – occasionally, save data randomly disappeared, and a few freezes here and there sullied an otherwise great experience. They’re minor issues overall, but still a little jarring.
Video games have come a long way since man first slipped a quarter into an arcade machine. These days, if a game doesn’t have a free-roaming environment or bump maps on every surface, it seems to fall to the wayside. Thankfully, we have games like Castle Crashers to remind us how fun simplicity used to be. The beat ’em up gameplay and unique presentation go a long way, and for lack of a better explanation, the game is just damn fun.