The giant, colorful arcade cabinets, adorable cartoon-emblazoned fight sticks and beautiful screens running Castle Crashers and Battleblock Theater are all an elaborate tease of things that only exist in the magical world of conventions. Every player's excited laughter turns into a cry of remorse as soon as he steps away from the booth and realizes this experience may never again be repeated, at least not in the comfort of his or her own home.
Battleblock Theater is poised to follow in Castle Crashers' footsteps as an addictive, enthusiastically fun cooperative platformer with oodles of replay value and longevity when it eventually launches on the XBLA. I played through two levels on two separate cabinets, on two separate days with two different people, and had the same joyful experience with both. Battleblock Theater is a game to be enjoyed with friends, or with people who seem to have a good attitude about getting hit with friendly explosive Frisbees in the middle of complicated platforming maneuvers.
Half the fun of Battleblock Theater lies in forgetting the object of the game and sabotaging your partner: Every punch, slide kick and projectile affects your companion as much as it does enemies, and this friendly fire environment spawns an entirely separate game mode from the standard "get to the end together" one. You can play cooperatively (you will still hit your partner on accident, and you will get hit in return), or you can play competitively, racing your buddy to the end in a rapid-fire aerial bloodbath.
Battleblock Theater is a game to be enjoyed with friends, or with people who seem to have a good attitude about getting hit with friendly explosive Frisbees in the middle of complicated platforming maneuvers.
The Behemoth themselves play Battleblock Theater with the latter strategy, a developer told a friend and me while watching us blow each other up, knock each other down and laugh manically during our first playthrough. This may be one reason The Behemoth thought to include a timed completion mode as the last level for each stage, forcing players to work together in some capacity if they hope to finish the game.
If you choose (or are forced) to play Battleblock Theater cooperatively, the platforming is rich and genuinely surprising at times, offering layers of diverging paths, blocks of burning coal that help rather than injure characters, portals, player-activated platforms and scattered enemies that take more than a simple bop on the head to defeat.
Arcade stick controls are wonderfully suited to Battleblock Theater, so much so that I'm now hesitant to play it on a 360 gamepad – Castle Crashers also appears in cabinet form at the Behemoth booth, but since I played and enjoyed that one at home first, my controller-phobia is abated. We'll have to wait and see if Battleblock Theater plays just as well outside of conventions, as there are no plans for a fight stick companion with the game's launch (even though we asked two employees and still think it's a fantastic idea, wink wink nudge nudge).