As a huge fan of classic co-op games, the news of Castle Crashers' development had me quite interested. The game looked quite modern, but the gameplay appeared to be old school for sure. The game received much attention and a fair bit of hype, and we covered it heavily here on Co-Optimus. Upon its release on August 27, I downloaded and purchased it immediately. It was a few days until I had a chance to sit down and give it some time, but when I did, I found that Castle Crashers easily met my expectations.
With my wife out of the house for an evening, the kids and I fired up the Xbox and loaded up the new game. My seven year old son chose to play as the Blue Knight. I quickly picked the Green, and my oldest, 13, decided to play as the Red Knight. Besides appearance, each knight has a different Magic power. Blue has ice, Red shoots lightning, and orange controls fire. I was a bit surprised to find that the Green knight wielded poison gas, as Knights using poison violates my D&D upbringing! It mattered little, though, as once the hacking and slashing started, I was having too much fun to think about it much.
The combat in Castle Crashers is simple yet enjoyable. You have a few standard attacks, plus arrows and magic. This alone is enough to take out most enemies. However, you gain experience, and level up, and doing so brings many benefits. First of all, you can spend points to buff your Knights attributes. You have your standard options here, such as strength, defense, magic, and defense. Certain combinations are unlocked as you level, too; a useful jumpspin attack is great for getting out of mob situations, and many combos are devastatingly effective, effecting several enemies at once. I chose to put all my points in defense, and the Young Blue Knight went all strength, while his brother chose a balanced approach. You could certainly tell a difference; I died far less than either of them, yet I couldn't clear out a room nearly as fast, either.
Your knight can pick up all sorts of items, as well. The standard potions, and temporary power ups are available, but the best are the weapons. Most weapons give boosts to certain stats, and penalties to others. Eventually , though, weapons offer a net gain in power, perhaps giving 6 Magic while taking away 1 strength and defense. Another way to customize your character is the use of animal partners, which float around your head. Each has a different effect, some letting you jump higher, or swim better, others giving bonuses to stats or even attacking enemies themselves! It's quite fun when your pet vampire bat chomps an enemy's head.
The graphics are clean and crisp. While two dimensional, they are striking and it really looks like you are playing a cartoon, in high definition. The enemies are varied, the locations are interesting; you just don't get much better art direction than this, though I'd like to have seen some rainbows, I suppose. Boss fights are well done, with a few that you just mash until they drop mixed in with some particularly nice puzzlers, like the river boss, and the mechanical room where you get shot by ice, fire, and all sorts of other crazy stuff.
Of course, there's a ginormous dragon as well, and if you don't laugh when being chased by a huge black beast through the forest while mounted on screaming, pooping deer, well, perhaps you have no soul. Castle Crashers' humor is particularly enjoyable, perhaps a bit on the childish side, but hey, that's how we like it. (The Blue Knight eventually got in trouble with his mother, when he drew a picture of a deer pooping during church. I must admit, I got tickled when I saw it, whereupon I got smacked on the arm myself. The Blue knight also got really upset when he didn't get the first kiss and that was a bit odd to explain to my wife when she came home, and the first thing she heard was "Mommy, Dad kissed a girl when you were gone!" Sigh...)
The plan was to beat Castle Crashers in one evening, and we gave it our best. However, bleary eyed and worn out after playing for five straight hours, the poor old Green Knight had to call it off for the night. The other knights protested, but upon reconvening the next day, after another two or three hours, victory was ours. The kingdom was saved, and we'd all gotten at least one kiss from a fair maiden. It was quite an experience, and one I can't wait to try again with our newly unlocked characters.
The co-op aspects of the game were strong. The revival mechanic was awesome, making the game fun even when you died. Of course watching each others' backs in battle really made you feel like a team. The only fault I can see with the co-op is that when one player picks up a new weapon, the others don't automatically get access to it, too. We figured out a way to swap weapons when a new one appeared, but it didn't always work, as sometimes the dropped weapons disappeared. It was frustrating seeing a weapon ideal for my Knight on the rack, and yet unavailable to me. Overall, that's pretty minor though, compared to everything else the game does so well.
This review wouldn't be complete without mentioning some of the problems that have plagued the game's release. Many folks are unable to join a quick match game over XBLA. Some can't conenct at all. For such a high profile title, this is unexpected and should have been fixed. Also, the game is more expensive than the typical Arcade title, at $15. Personally, I think it's worth every penny, though some might disagree.
The Co-Op Experience: The game allows 4 players each choosing a character to defeat countless hordes of enemies and save the princess.
Co-Optimus game reviews focus on the cooperative experience of a game, our final score graphic represents this experience along with an average score for the game overall. For an explanation of our scores please check our Review Score Explanation Guide.