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Joystiq E3 Hands-on: Castle Crashers


Thanks to the dedicated blogging of the folks at Behemoth, we pretty much knew everything there was to know about Castle Crashers coming into E3 -- it's the followup to Alien Hominid, a game that started out on Newgrounds, and ended up on the XBLA. It's got tons of playable characters, lots of "animal orbs" you can recruit to fight with you, and a great art style and a sly sense of humor. In fact, the only thing we didn't know about it was probably the most important thing: how it actually played.

After playing it with Microsoft Director of Digitally Distributed Content Scott Austin here at E3, we can safely say it's going to be one of the biggest XBLA titles of this year (it's due out before September 21st). Castle Crashers is crazy good button mashing fun, and we can't wait to lay down our hard-earned Microsoft Points for it.

The game is basically a beat-em-up in the spirit of Streets of Rage, or any number of licensed games of yesteryear. You always move right (a flashing pointer shows you the way to go when it's open), mash buttons to crush enemies when they fall across your path, and then the whole thing is punctuated with the occasional wacky encounters and boss battles.

But Castle Crashers is so much more -- as you take out enemies, you earn experience points, and the more points you get, the more moves and abilities open up. And combat gets complicated, too -- you start with just a hack and slash, and then open up a power hack, and then a spinning attack, and then a sprint attack, and oh yeah, there's a mana bar for each character, and spells to cast (for each of many strange character types in the game) that can also be unlocked, and so on. And that's all just within level 3. Oh, and did we mention the totally cute pets that give you various abilities and statuses? The complexity in the game is mindboggling, and the action is frenetic, but it never forgets that at its heart, it's still just a fun beat-em-up. It's like playing the frontend of the TMNT arcade game with the backend of Final Fantasy Tactics.

And both the art and humor in the game is divine as well -- during the stage we played, there was a huge battle going on behind the foreground, and in the areas we walked through there were soldiers playing dead, enemy creatures doing unspeakable things to soldiers that really were dead, and NPC soldiers trying to do CPR on dead soldiers (that's how you can bring fallen players back to life as well). And at the end of the stage, we were threatened by a big, angry viking boss, only to have another, much larger, viking boss knock a door open flat to crush the first one -- turns out we were fighting the bigger guy.

Behemoth has refined their cartoony style since Alien Hominid -- that game suffered from its Flash roots, but Castle Crashers doesn't suffer from that problem -- it's gorgeous in HD, and every character, background, and boss that we saw oozed with style and color.

And when we did finally beat the boss (it turned out to be a viking battering ram, and we had to hack away at the little enemies populating the inside until they could take no more), we saved a beautiful princess, and discovered that she only wanted one suitor. So after vanquishing all the enemies around us, we then turned on each other to finish off the stage.

Castle Crashers is great fun, looks terrific, and just might end up being the best original XBLA game ever. We'll know for sure when we actually get a chance to play through it -- the pre-October release can't come soon enough.

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