Story isn’t everything in games, but having a good premise helps out a lot. In BattleBlock Theater, the plot revolves around being shipwrecked on an island and forced to perform in dangerous plays to please an audience of sinister cats. That sense of craziness carries throughout the entire game and, coupled with some great platforming and a ton of options, it makes for a fun, compelling package.
BattleBlock Theater is a 2D platformer. The game is divided into chapters, subdivided into acts and scenes, where each scene is a level. In order to complete a level the player must collect 3 gems, which will unlock the exit. Levels usually have seven gems, and finding more, as well as finding the golden ball of yarn, will increase the rating received.
When starting, the player chooses their character’s head style, color and weapon. Gems can be used to purchase the freedom of fellow prisoners, which unlocks their head styles for selection. Balls of yarn are used to bribe the guards to sell weapons. The weapons are nice and varied, but unfortunately they unlock in sequence, and there is no ability to choose what which one to unlock.
The gameplay is solid and tight, and as a platformer, it’s very well done. There is a decent variety of elements in the levels, from exploding blocks to climbing rails, and each one feels unique. The stages are crazy as one would expect based on the premise of the game. For example, I spent time dodging pieces of toast and running from a rabid antelope/raccoon creature. Death didn’t hurt anything other than my pride and level time, and simply dropped me at the last checkpoint.
Levels are filled with spike traps and deadly water pits, as well as enemies who will attack directly or try to push players into obstacles. I could attack with a variety of punches, kicks and weapons, but none of that is really explained anywhere in the game. In fact, I didn’t know about most of the moves until I got into an online match with someone, and saw what they were doing. All of the moves are listed in the game manual, but for a game that explains other actions (like double jumping and grabbing objects) during the game play, leaving out all of the combat elements is a strange decision.
The single player campaign can be tackled either solo or coop, and BattleBlock Theater also sports a wealth of multiplayer modes. From Muckle, a deathmatch style game that rewards players for killing enemies in creative ways, to a simple time challenge. All of my online interactions ran perfectly smooth. While online, players can trade yarn, gems or anything else with each other, which is a welcomed feature.
The game has plenty of content as it is, but it also includes a fully featured level editor. It is very easy to use, and after reading the instructions, I was able to start working on a level with no problems. There is a nice option that allows players to jump in and immediately test an in-progress level, which is really cool. Custom levels can be shared online, and players can create playlists of levels for themselves and friends. There is even a rating system, allowing users to rate a playlist after they complete it.
BattleBlock Theater has a fun, unique look to it. The brightly lit stage performances in front of the audience give way to the dingy, backstage environment of a rundown theater/prison, and both set the mood nicely. The music is simple but catchy, and it’s been stuck in my head ever since I started playing the game. A narrator voices the cinematics and provides commentary during play, and the voice work is well done. The story pieces are filled with crazy dialog, and the game play commentary is fun, although it does start to get repetitive over the course of the game.
There’s a lot to like about BattleBlock Theater. There are plenty of story levels, an unlimited number of user-created levels and plenty of variety in the online game types, even including a basketball game. The challenge ramps up nicely over the course of the game, and new elements are constantly mixed in, including some light puzzle solving. For those seeking an extra challenge there’s the Insane mode, which removes the level checkpoints. It’s a shame that the game doesn’t explain itself better, but it’s a lot of fun, and constantly had me saying “just one more level”.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.