This week's edition of the regular Critical Reception column
examines online reaction to The Behemoth's awaited Xbox Live Arcade release Castle Crashers
, a multiplayer brawler that reviews describe as "an absurdly hilarious romp you won't soon forget."
In development for more than two years, Castle Crashers
represents The Behemoth's second major release after 2004's side-scrolling shooter Alien Hominid
Though anticipation ran high in the weeks leading up to its release, the title faced stiff competition from recent XBLA hits like Bionic Commando: Rearmed, Braid
, and Galaga Legions
. After a successful launch last week, Castle Crashers
emerges from the fray with a Metacritic-averaged score of 85 out of 100
Matt Cabral at Team Xbox scores Castle Crashers
at 9 out of 10
, noting that its surprising amount of depth betrays its brawler roots. "Its fast-paced hack-‘n-slash gameplay, coupled with some light RPG elements, makes it feel more like an addictive action/RPG," he says. "In fact, it's worth noting, Castle Crashers
fed my fix for this genre far better than Silicon Knights’ recently released Too Human
"Each brave little brawler wields a melee weapon -- yielding light and heavy attacks triggered with the X and Y buttons, respectively -- and, more importantly, possesses a unique elemental magic power; fire, ice, poison and lightning spells can be unleashed as area or more precise projectile attacks," Cabral describes. "Additionally, players level up their knights, attributing points to strength, agility, magic, and defense."
The result is a brawler that demands more strategy than many of its genre predecessors, according to Cabral. "Castle Crashers'
action unfolds fairly strategically," he writes. "Sure, you can rush in, hammering on buttons, but it’s far more satisfying to dial up a more sophisticated approach. Maybe fire off a few noxious poison projectiles from afar, allow your ram orb to clothesline a few goons, and then charge in for some up-close-and-personal skull cracking."
Cabral warns that the title's two-player experience provides its strongest moments, but assures that it remains a worthy play otherwise. "After two full playthroughs -- one solo, and one with a rotating team of two to four -- I’d say this title shines brightest as a two-knight romp," he asserts. "Solo play is also a blast, but I felt anything over two was too much."
"Regardless of how many join your fight," Cabral concludes, "you’ll find Castle Crashers
a content-packed offering, brimming with replayability, buoyed by unlockable characters and just-one-more-level addiction. Plan on crashing plenty of castles before the holiday rush."
GameSpot's Don Francis gives Castle Crashers
a score of 8.5 out of 10
, explaining that the title will be of particular value to brawler fans. "For those who have been crying about the absence of new brawlers," he begins, "Castle Crashers
has arrived to save you from your lamentations."
Francis finds highlights in Castle Crashers'
varied boss fights. "Bosses are not only grand in scale but also a fun challenge," he says. "Early bosses are endurance tests in dodging and attacking, and later bosses ramp up the humor, as well as the challenge. Fights range from brawling on the back of a speeding carriage to neutralizing a lightsaber-wielding organist whose pipes spew cannonballs."
Francis also praises Castle Crashers'
difficulty balance. "Alien Hominid
, developer The Behemoth's previous game, was known for its punishing level of difficulty," he notes. "Castle Crashers
has benefited from better campaign balancing and strikes just the right mixture of challenge and enjoyment."
"Puzzles aren't too hard, and diverse enemies become progressively tougher as you progress in the story," Francis continues. "Death in a level doesn't end your game or force you to tap into a finite number of continues. Failure to complete a level only kicks you back out to an overworld map."
Despite experiencing persistent issues with online play, Francis claims that Castle Crashers
is an altogether enjoyable experience. "As a testament to its entertainment, feature losses and some disappointing online play hardly slow this juggernaut of amusement down," he writes. "This is an absurdly hilarious romp you won't soon forget."
Dan Whitehead at Eurogamer praises Castle Crashers
as an excellent Alien Hominid
follow-up in his review, scored at 8 out of 10
. "Much like The Behemoth's last Live Arcade effort, Alien Hominid HD
, this is a resolutely old-fashioned side-scroller," he explains. "Where it differs is in a much less brutal learning curve, a vastly increased amount of peripheral stuff to play with and a generally more rounded gaming experience."
' art design is described as a significant step up from Alien Hominid
. "The art style is similar to Alien Hominid
, but noticeably more polished and detailed," Whitehead says. "Incidental details abound, and the heavily stylised look is applied to an impressive range of enemies, animals and environments without ever feeling stale."
Whitehead notes that this detail can sometimes lead to gameplay-related annoyances, however. "Where the visuals prove less than useful is in the annoying frequency with which enormous scenery items obscure huge chunks of the screen," he writes. "You're often left fighting with no idea of where you are and in a game that relies so heavily on controlled chaos that's a poor design decision."
"The flat sprites also prove confusing where collision detection is concerned," Whitehead continues. "It's a problem that affected many of the classic side-scrollers that influenced Castle Crashers
, but it's somehow more annoying to see it occur in a modern game. The game is very fussy about where you can stand to actually land a hit, with a strange dead zone slightly above enemies but no such restriction below them."
Whitehead finds that Castle Crashers
overcomes these limitations through the strength of its gameplay, however. "None of these irritations are enough to dim the sheer fun of the game though, especially when played as intended - with four players, either locally, online or whatever mixture of the two best suits your social circle," he concludes. "It's a big, bright and bold dollop of irreverent fun, and it could have been truly phenomenal with a little more attention to the finer details."
Though critics note various problems with Castle Crashers
(its online performance in particular is described as inconsistent, in multiple cases), many claim that the core gameplay is executed so well that any issues seem minor in the face of what is otherwise a worthwhile, fun arcade brawler. Despite its shortcomings, critics largely describe Castle Crashers
as one of Xbox Live Arcade's strongest offerings in a month that has seen several acclaimed releases.