BattleBlock Theater is Great
BattleBlock Theater is a 2013 puzzle platformer from The Behemoth. I played the PC version, which just came out on Steam last month. It was worth the money.
In BattleBlock Theater you play as a prisoner in a death trap game show world. Your protagonist is a stunted little creature (appearance variable based on in-game unlocks) who runs through grids of exploding things, spikes, water hazards, and evil cat guards—all for the amusement of the cat aristocracy who watch your exploits with mild amusement. While a high-pitched narrator ridicules you. But this is just a can of paint dressing up a great little game.
It’s refreshing to see a platformer that doesn’t promise the second coming of Super Mario Bros. and also provides a decent but reasonable challenge. It seemed way too easy at first and I was prepared for a weak casual game that was afraid to ask anything of the player, but the game’s creators wisely cranked on the difficulty lever at an acceptable pace as they introduce you to new types of gadgets and obstacles. Some of the later levels in BattleBlock Theater are pretty bonkers and require high levels of dexterity; for once I’m not complaining about the presence of multiple checkpoints per level, as they are practically necessary in some of the stages unless you want an I Wanna Be the Guy type experience. You have unlimited lives but expending them excessively will reduce your score for that level and thus restrict your access to the bonus levels until you replay and do it right.
You collect gems throughout levels to unlock the exits. You only need three gems to activate the escape teleporter, but there are generally six or seven in each level, not to mention balls of yarn. The real purpose of these collectibles (aside from getting a letter grade as your score) is to unlock stuff. New prisoners (cosmetic but fascinating) and new “weapons”. Those scare quotes are there because the weapons you can get are things like exploding Frisbees novelty flying discs that are quite awkward and puny nerf arrows that are only good for climbing some walls. You know, stuff that is clearly not useful in most situations and you’ll only bother with in multiplayer combat or to snatch an obscure gem in some levels. I don’t know if this is a parody of collectathon games like most PlayStation 2 platformers and their ludicrous levels of OCD-ness, but it does mean you can enjoy every (non-bonus) stage without having to dig through every obscure corner for shiny junk.
BattleBlock Theater’s aforementioned multiplayer is a fantastic addition to a game I already enjoy significantly. You can expect only the best in extra crap in a game made by The Behemoth. You can co-op the main game, but screw that, the mini-games are where the real fun is. There are modes where you collect coins, paint blocks like Q*Bert, or just straight up fight each other. I had a blast testing my skills against friends and strangers alike (I suck at the combat but I’m pretty good at platforming) and it appears the game is always updating with new content.
Did someone say new content? BattleBlock Theater also offers a healthy community of user-made levels. It’s true that many of them are just generic Mario ripoffs with no heart, but there’s a strong contingent of new material coming onto the scene that should keep the game alive for years to come, not to mention the game creators’ promise of more official stuff in the future.
What makes BattleBlock Theater such a grand experience is a combination of the robust challenge, the creative levels, and the overall design and presentation. You won’t see any of that “retro” pixel nonsense here; this game’s visuals are gorgeously detailed. Dan Paladin has this great weirdy-beardy art style. Real eye-popping stuff. He creates colorful worlds where everything is simultaneously adorable and grotesque; it’s like if Jhonen Vasquez knew what he was doing and didn’t have an insufferable fanbase.
The art is strange but not in a hallucinatory or repugnant manner; it’s more like something a whimsical dervish would crank out for a giggle, and it more than suffices with its flakey queerness and deliberate eccentricity.
I was also surprised by BattleBlock Theater’s writing. Yes, the plot is deliberately ridiculous and meaningless, but the attempts at humor were actually funny most of the time. I was expecting to be annoyed by the squeaky babblings of the wacky narrator, but he ended up being a great addition to an already quirky game. He’s not as irritating and obtrusive as most video game narrators as his dialogue is limited to little quips during loading screens, cutscenes, and when you screw up and get killed.
The Behemoth simply makes great games. I played hundreds of hours of Alien Hominid (a game that is just about perfect) and truly enjoyed Castle Crashers. BattleBlock Theater is one of the best platformers in years. Buy BattleBlock Theater and support the creators of good games. No, don’t wait for it to be a dollar and a chunk of pocket lint on some Steam sale/indie game bundle; buy it now. I have nothing but the highest recommendations for this one.