Sunday, May 19, 2013

Battleblock Theater (XBLA): Blueprint to a Perfect Platformer.

It takes a lot to make me dabble in XBLA or PSN arcade. I hate the concept of paying for something, but not getting a tangible product to own. Because of that, I don't use a lot of the on demand services for games on the xbox, playstation, or even steam really. However, I will occasionally cave when I see a number of people playing or commenting on a hit title. Sometimes this leads me to games like love, like Braid.

After downloading the games trial and playing it through like 4 or 5 times, and having a extra 1600 points collecting dust on my live account, I decided to hell with it and unlocked the full version of....


The story of Battleblock Theater begins with the player character of your creation joining a group of friends on a "friend-ship" owned by best friend to all, Hatty Hattington. Hatty and friends sail off to find adventure on the open seas and to have a good time singing, dancing, and enjoying each others company. But a horrible (and hilariously narrated) storm casts the ship to a mysterious island and shipwrecks them.

On the island, the player finds a mysterious theater that is inhabited by technologically advanced cats, who take Hatty and his friends captive. Hatty is given a glowing red top hat, and seems to become possessed by its powers and seemingly joins his captors. Forcing the player and fellow prisoners to perform in the theater in trials of survival for the cats amusement. The player must endure through all of them in order to save Hatty and the rest of his friends so they can escape the island. 

My initial play of this game gave me cause for hesitation, because when I first picked it up I was expecting the game to be more of a puzzler, but in reality it is actually a platformer. Not that I have any issue with platformers per say, I just really haven't been interested in them since Super Mario World on SNES. Since, there have been rare exceptions (Braid, Limbo, Super Meat Boy, etc.), but its not generally a genre I spend a lot of time on.

The general jist of each level is to collect at least 3 gems to unlock the exit. Levels can contain anywhere from 5 to 7 gems, and one ball of yarn. The more you collect, the better your rank. If you can collect all of them within a certain time limit, you can get a perfect A++ rank and earn some bonus gems. 

It starts off pretty straight forward with some fairly easy to navigate stages, a number of times I'd fly through so fast I'd get the perfect ranking on my first go. For the first two or so chapters, I thought this game was going to be a breeze. But as you play on, the game starts winging new curveballs at you, and the stages start to get even more puzzling as you play them.

But what really made the game for me was the time trial aspect of it. Adding the necessity for speed in this game really adds the need to keep up the intensity. Most of the levels are not exceptionally huge, so a lot of the time you are really flying around, and it allows the game to move at an almost breakneck pace. This does nothing but make the game more enjoyable and frenetic. Almost every level I played, I would immediately restart to do again faster, just to push my rank a little bit higher. 

As you progress, lots of new concepts are thrown at you and you need to learn how to use all of them properly to move throughout the level. The blocks change, so some explode after a second, some send you flying, some slow you down or allow you slide down walls, some cause you to build speed and slip. Then they start throwing items for you to use like wings to keep you afloat or jetpacks to fly you around for short bursts.

Precision is key in a lot of stages, and I fuckin' love it.
Some of the stages contain hidden areas for hidden gems, some of them have tricks that use pressure plates that cause blocks to disappear, or create light bridges to cross areas or protect you from lasers or spikes. Sometimes you need to use the environment to your advantage to trigger some switches and so on and so forth. Battleblock Theater really does throw a whole of intricacies into these very small levels which allow them to come up with some very imaginative tricks, and it makes it super satisfying when you figure out how to fly through it.

All of the gems you collect can be used to "free prisoners" (which is basically different heads for your character) and balls of string are used to unlock weapons. There is a massive number of things to unlock, so it will probably take a few playthroughs to get them all but I was able to all of one head type. There aren't as many weapons and if you try to perfect each level you should be able to get them all in no time. Once I got the fireball though, I didn't really feel like I needed anything else. (Side note though, on insane mode you have to do the whole level on a life with no checkpoints, so fireball is not great there since it can kill you too)

The two player mode changes up the levels to require co-op mechanics. Which means you cannot complete the level unless the two of your work together, which is a system a game like this should have I think. It worked well in Portal 2 and I think it would work here. I haven't gotten the opportunity to play the co-op mode yet but I look forward to doing so, (I'm lookin' at you, Liebe).

I love the music in this game because basically they revolve around heavy use of chiptunes. I'm just a huge fan of the retro gaming sound and honestly I wish it was bigger in the music industry to use. But I am happy to see it start to make a comeback in gaming. The BattleBlock Theater theme is easily  my favorite of the bunch, but the hidden bonus levels are also great because the narrator sings over them, and they are just ridiculous. It all comes to a wonderful head when you complete the game though, its a very "Still Alive"  level of awesome as far as I'm concerned. Honestly, I think it was the trailer for this game that pushed me to get it because the song was so damn catchy and funny. (see below)

But the REAL reason you play this game is the side splitting narration in the game. During each level the narrator throws out this hilarious comments. Some are encouraging, some are sarcastic, some are just flat our ridiculous. But after each chapter when complete its time trial, you are treated to this paper cut out puppet show and a monologue from the narrator. They are hilarious, and I'd expect nothing less from Behemoth studios. That style of humor is their bread and butter.

I suppose if I needed to complain about anything, it'd be the games overall length. While some of the levels took a bit of figuring out, it only really started to wrack my brain by the end of the game around chapters 7 and 8. That may seem like a good length but you really will shred through the first 4-6 with little issue. Its an arcade game though so I suppose that kind of depth is to be expected. 

This was one of those games where I really wanted to play the multiplayer, which I was able to do against the computer but it didn't have the same feel as it would if I had friends to banter with, (I'm so lonely). There are a bunch of different game types like capture the horse, king of the hill, beat em up, B-ball, and a handful of others. The Achievement Hunter guys did a video of it and its pretty easy to see how easily those matches can get out of hand.

Soccer Ball, Basketball hoop, Football scoring. They clearly did this on purpose.
The game also features a create a level editor which allows you to produce your own map and then throw them out there for all of xbox live to unappreciatively shit on and leave negative reviews for. But if you have a number of friends playing the game it seems like a good way to produce new challenges and really draw some life into the game. I didn't dabble with this much in Little Big Planet but the layouts in BattleBlock Theater seem much more simple to design. Although then again, I'm not that clever.

I ended up enjoying BattleBlock Theater way more than I thought I was going to. It had the right tweaks to the system to make this very enjoyable for me, and I feel lays down a great blueprint for what makes platformers fun. Small, tightly contained levels that require though, and a very fast pace throughout the game. Throw in some awesome chiptune music, hilarious narration, lots of unlockables, and fun group of multiplayer modes and you really can't ask for anything more. 

BattleBlock Theater was absolutely worth the 1200 points I paid for it and I would absolutely recommend you do so as well. Just goes to show you game industry, not every game needs two guns and cover mechanics to be fun to play. Buckle your pants, Bitches.

"Touch'n a butt".... Man I love this trailer.

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