Castle Crashers has charm. By the time you’ve hacked your way through Alien Hominid creator Dan Palladin’s latest adventure you’ll have visited locations ranging from moderately quirky to entirely bizarre. Somehow, through the medieval centered narrative, you’ll find yourself caught inside: a spaceship, an industrial castle, a desert, a pirate ship, a wedding cart, river rapids, even within the living carcass of a creature strangely used to store the weapons found throughout the game. You’ll pilot a dragon, or spit at foes aboard a camel. You’ll encounter a goliath bat and you’ll murder colossal dragon sock-puppets. You’ll play knight in shining armor (literally) to a handful of princesses, decapitate imps, scoff toast to triple your size and pummel quivering foes into the ground. You’ll attain the aid of over twenty animals, each with their own unique service ranging. You’ll loathe enemies for causing you to restart levels than drown in comical sympathy as you obliterate them, only for them to die crying, clutching a tiny white flag. Castle Crashers definitely has charm. Castle Crashers breathes charm.
Considering this you may be inclined to believe Castle Crashers wears a cape fashioned from the variety spices of life. How can any game which so swiftly teleports you from the medieval dwellings of knights to the sandy planes of the Middle East, not excel in providing a varied experience throughout? Simply by allowing the gameplay to focus on moving across a half-hearted two-dimensional scenario with the effortless objective: hack and slash, rinse and repeat.
For all the hilarity haunting each level, its hoard of varying scenes, and its symphony of charm, Castle Crashers never drifts far from the linear, repetitive, well-worn path of side-scrolling gaming. This isn’t a fault in itself; Braid is a masterpiece. Super Mario Bros was genius. Castelvania was fantastic. The problem with Castle Crashers is it relies almost solely on its expansive list of locations to maintain interest. Of course, as with Alien Hominid, there’s a huge array of enemies to massacre and the bosses are always original and well crafted. The RPG elements are well implemented, as is the divide between ranged, melee, and magic attacks and combining the three makes for some interesting results. The range of weapons is also incredible; maces, axes, twigs, guns, bows, lightsabers, and a barrel-load more. There are even sections spent atop moving vehicles or caught in cascading rapids. However the aim is consistently: annihilate a predetermined scourge of enemies, then advance. It’s a template that succeeds at first, but trails, and eventually embarks on a landslide into the chasms of frustration as the game moves into its final stages.
Annoyingly the game adopts a ‘fail and fuck off back to the start’ checkpoint system. It nails this dire liquid poison of aggravation and monotony to its heart and staggers backwards as you plead with it, just let it go. If you die you’re instantly transported back to the level selection screen. No second chances. No remorse. It doesn’t matter if you were microseconds from landing the final blow on a boss fifteen minutes into a level. The game has no sympathy and it’s almost obnoxious. Not only that but it’s a decadent system and one that doesn’t encourage replay. The game allows you to purchase some health, but the life system in Alien Hominid worked perfectly. There’s no requirement for unforgiving mechanics that only promote replaying the same level ten times. It’s clear Castle Crashers was supposed to be a multiplayer experience. When another player is flown into the fray the ability to revive one another is implemented. However the multiplayer is laggy, glitchy and confusing with so much on screen at any one time. And with only the colour of your helmet to separate you from your allies, four-player co-op play quickly descends into a maniac’s button-mashing marathon.
Castle Crashers is purely fun. It’s a logical step after the success of Alien Hominid and one that reaps the benefits of a far improved campaign and greater variety in locations, weapons, and enemies. Though through the latter missions it begins to falter resulting in a frustrating dose of levels, the game still hoards enough originality, humor, and flare to make it one of the best arcade titles of the year. And despite the steep price tag (1200 points), Castle Crashers is a worthwhile purchase for anyone who enjoyed Alien Hominid, or has a fetish for 2D action adventure games set in Medieval past.