Castle Crashers Reader Review
Many years ago (going all the way back to 2004) we got our first taste of the skills of animator Dan Paladin and programmer Tom Fulp when they released Alien Hominid on consoles after it had a rather large success on the flash game website and one of my old haunts, Newgrounds.com After four years of arduously raking in the fortune that followed, both Dan and Tomdecided to release Castle Crashers, their second side scrolling run 'n' gun game as a spiritual successor to Aien Hominid. Released in August of 2008 for the XBox Live Arcade, you play as one of four knights each with their own specific magical attack (Lightning, Ice, Fire and Poison) the mission brief in this game is simple...face smackingly so; four princesses and a giant magical gem have been taken from the castle by The Evil Wizard, go smash shit up and get them back...there, told you it was simple.
The basic design is reassuringly safe, the graphics are your garden variety cartoon-style with sprinkles of mature humour and controls that are very easy to just pick up and play as the only button you will need to start with is the X or "hit badguy with stick" button. Despite the overall safe feel and simplistic nature of Castle Crashers, there is a surprising amount of content here for an Arcade game, upon my first encounter with the game, me and three friends embarked on our couch co-op mission of saving the princesses and recover the Giant Gem of Unmentioned Power and upon finishing the game and watching the bizarre but not altogether unexpected ending our first instinct was not to put the pads down and play something else or to venture outside to remember what the touch of daylight felt like but it was to start the game again and gather all the items we had missed.
You see, as I mentioned, there is a stonking amount of content to collect in the game, there are an additional 19 playable characters which range from enemies within the game to the Melee Knight who has no magical attack but you obtain him by not using magic throughout the first two levels...sorry, did that count as a spoiler?...Ahh well!, carrying on!! There are also dozens of "Animal Orbs" which act like little sidekicks that you can find in random little corners of each level which have different effects depending on what you pick up, from the Owl who will try and bring you hidden food in the level to heal you to the BiPolar Bear who will attack both enemies and friends who are low on health and kill them which (when four players are caught in a complete cluster-fuck of baddies franticaly mashing their attack buttons) adds a nice bit of comedy spice to an already funny game. There are also more than 70 weapons to gather (including basic weapons from Axe and Sword to the more exotic such as Frozen Fish and Skeletal Leg, granted a handful of them are on the DLC packs) which are all kept in the storage area at the local Blacksmiths storeroom (which is a giant frog with antlers that has had it's tongue tied to the blacksmith anvil)
So you're wondering around the insides of this giant frog with it's heat beating a few feet above you as the weapons are stored on makeshift racks made out of rope tied between the frogs ribs and at no point after your initial visit do you think there is anything wrong with this situation!, Paladin and Fulp have done an extrodinary thing with Castle Crashers, they have put your characters in bizarre situations but the way things are presented simplys invokes that "Yeah, fair enough, I'll roll with that" feeling that most games are completely lacking nowadays.
There are many moments that will invoke this feeling in you, such as the fight with the Cat-Fish on the river level, where the boss is an actual cat but with gills! or the chase through the longest lunber mill in the world where you are being chased by a giant one-eyed furry black beast with giant arms as you flee on deer-back, or The Painter who appears near the end of the game who proceeds to spout lines of dialog such as "My brush is mighter than your sword" and "I'll paint you into a coma" as he paints minions on the wall which then come to life! The Painter is also one of those unique "Yeah fair enough" moments as only after the battle did it occur to me that The Painter had a toolbox for a head!
This is not to say that Castle Crashers isn't without its faults, there are many times when you will find that you cast your entire magic bar at an enemy only to find that you were two pixels higher than the enemy in question and just wasted your best move on thin air! But this is part of Castle Crashers' charm and overall appeal, it takes you back to a time where games were so buggy that you had a massive sence of accomplishment for getting through "that level" because the enemies all knew where they were in relation to you in the game but you only had your keen gaming eyes, quick fingers and a bucket of luck to pull through it. I wouldn't be surprised if Paladin and Fulp included these features on purpose (or at least neglected to remove them) to bring these feelings out in their gamers.
Castle Crashers is a throughly fun and enjoyable game, it is rare thing that I would buy an XBox Live Arcade game and still be playing it today, granted not so much but playing it again for this review was no less fun than when I first found myself still playing it at 4am with my buddies and a copious amount of energy drink.