Checkpoint: Castle Crashers

checkpointlogoThis column originally ran on April 6, 2010.

In 2008, the makers of Alien Hominid brought a four-player frenzied experience to the Xbox 360. Castle Crashers didn’t get a huge marketing campaign, but word quickly spread about the title and its quirky but addictive gameplay. Checkpoint takes a look back at the colorful brawler, and we discuss our love/hate relationship with Corn Boss.

And so it begins.
And so it begins.

Hero Mettle

Lee: These days, we see a lot of companies abandoning simplicity for graphics. The 2-D side-scrolling games were long thought to be dead. We were pleasantly surprised when Castle Crashers came out. Its return to a style similar to games created in the halcyon days of our youth did not go unnoticed.

Chris: This was one of those games I hadn’t really heard much about before it dropped on the XBLA. But it quickly got a lot of buzz, and it had four-player co-op, so I took a shot. As soon as that title music cued up, we were already hooked.

Lee: I’m not sure there is a game with more epic title music.

Shaun: The introduction follows a pretty typical premise that every single Mario title ever has used — the Princess(es) get kidnapped, and you set off to the rescue. It’s pretty apparent early on, however, that CC sets itself apart with its humor. It manages to be pretty epic, but it does not take itself too seriously.

Chris: Yeah, humor and pacing. They don’t screw around with the setup — it’s a quick visual thing, with barely any text in the game, and away you go. Time to be a hero.

Lee: The story was pretty basic. Evil dude jacked your princess, and you have to chase him down. The saga takes you through multiple levels where you have to battle unique bosses.

Chris: Really, considering there’s barely any writing, there’s still a pretty effective story here. There’s still some giant question marks (what is wrong with these deer? Where did we learn how to fly on the last level?), it didn’t hamper the experience at all.

Shaun: The insane aspects were great. Most of the developments didn’t make sense, but were awesome nonetheless. We just get done fighting pirate ninjas, and then aliens abduct us….okay, cool.

Lee: And over the course of your adventure, your characters bond and learn how to fight as one. It was family-friendly.

Shaun: Yeah. Family-friendly except for all of the violence and defecating jokes. The violence was great. Constant diarrhea…less so.

Lee: Sometimes things do not have to make sense to be fun. I think the lack of storytelling was one of the better parts of the game. You did not have to be told what was going on, you just knew.

Shaun: I normally am an advocate for gaming as a storytelling medium, but in this case, I agree that less was better. There was kind of a story with the limited cutscenes, and that was enough for me. Except for the ending. That was just weird.

Chris: I mean, Castle Crashers probably tells a better story than Final Fantasy VII.

Lee: Oh BURN. And your characters probably had more emotional development.

Chris: Think about the tense expressions on their faces before they dueled to kiss the princess at the end of a level. That’s more emotion in one scene than Cloud has in the entire game. Unless “crying” is an emotion.

Shaun: My turn: and there was one hundred percent less wrist cutting. Okay, I’m good.

Lee: I would say 205% less wrist cutting if you count the cutting I did while playing FFVII.

Chris: And that, folks, is a scientific number.

Shaun: Anyway, it did make me sad to see how many soldiers were killed throughout the course of the game….especially all the ones that died in the rescue attempt by failing to fall on the cake. You look around at the corpses of your cavalry, and think “well, we probably could have planned that better.”

Chris: Yeah, one of them lands on a roasted ham instead of a cake. You wonder if he was ever taught which objects were soft and which weren’t. Not the most critical part of training soldiers, but then again, it was important this time.

Lee: Meh, peons are born to die. They should have been wearing red shirts. I was saddened when my deery companion left me after running through that very empty sawmill.

Shaun: In the end, you saved four princesses and lost a kingdom’s worth of soldiers. Happy endings for everyone.

Three of the toughest warriors...and the cutest tiger you've ever seen!
Three of the toughest warriors…and the cutest tiger you’ve ever seen!

C-C-C-Combo Maker

Chris: The gameplay in Castle Crashers wasn’t exactly anything new, although there were some refinements to the classic brawler formula. Combos and RPG-like leveling up, for example. Still, CC succeeds because the gameplay is fun, bottom line.

Shaun: It’s hard to see why it took this many years for a good 2D sidescroller to be released. CC takes the classic gameplay and infuses it with modern sensibilties, making for gameplay that is easy to pick up, addictive, and manages to have surprising depth.

Chris: It’s the subtle things that make CC work. Your magic gets stronger as you put more points into that ability. Gradually, you get faster if you put points into agility. Weapon changes are both funny and stat-boosting.

Shaun: My sister just goes around mashing the heavy attack button, and does fine, while someone with more practice can launch an enemy into the air and proceed to do an endless air combo against the edge of the screen until they die.

Lee: I think one of the best parts of the game was not needing your feet. I spent about half of that game in the air hitting people.

Shaun: Everything is also very nicely balanced. With the exception of Agility, each category has relevance, and a reason for putting your hard earned points into it. And they created a magic system worth upgrading, which is not always the case with games like these.

Lee: The first time I played I chose green. That guy got to play around with gas, which was okay. The best part was when I got upgraded magic and got to launch myself into the air. It looked like I rocketed upward on a cloud of vile human fog.

Chris: For me, I started out with lightning, which meant rolling around like the emperor and zapping people like they were Samuel L. Jackson. Hell, I could have used a lightsaber if I’d wanted.

Shaun: Well, since I didn’t choose my guy based on who executes the best potty jokes, I went with the fire guy. Being able to trap the opponent in a stream of fire was spectacularly satisfying.

Lee: What are you talking about. Fire is the filthiest of all jokes. Just look at Dale Earnhardt.

Shaun: Unless by saying “fire” you mean “wall,” you are incorrect. Oh, and now I feel bad. There it is.

Chris: See, that’s what you get for having feelings. Even though a majority of the characters were pretty much palette swaps, and they all had pretty much the same basic light and heavy attacks, the magic set them apart enough to where you were interested in replaying the game with new characters.

Shaun: Right. Actually, I think my first character was ice. He was okay. Good for a support character if you are playing with three other people because he can freeze the enemy, but so-so overall.

Chris: There’s something to be said for the bosses in Castle Crashers, too. Most of them presented a pretty strong challenge, especially until you learned their attacks.

Shaun: That damn aqua catfish was one of the worst. By that point in the game, you’re not very strong, and you have to time it just right for the cannon to daze him.

Lee: If you had the boomerang, that dude was easy.

Shaun: Well, thank you for undermining my whole statement.

Lee: I was a fan of the one-eyed armored dude. He died just like the Terminator.

Shaun: Yeah, that reference was nice. One of the best parts.

Chris: I liked the epic fight at the wedding. Church organs make everything better. Church organs that double as a multitude of cannons…that just takes the cake. The wedding cake.

Lee: No, I’m pretty sure we crushed that cake.

Shaun: And it was delicious.

To those not in the know, this probably doesn't make much sense.
To those not in the know, this probably doesn’t make much sense.

Weapon of Choice

Lee: The weapons and pet systems were fun. Weapons would give you bonuses to the stats you had. Pets would give you special abilities. It was a simple concept that doubled as a way to insert more humor into the game. You could kill people with a fish.

Chris: Even though most of the pets weren’t worth much, they were still fun. Personally, I liked having an owl follow me around and bring me fruit. Not to mention it was handy in a tight spot.

Shaun: I liked the giraffe. Because I like giraffes.

Lee: I liked the zebra, but I do not remember why. Maybe he looked like he had a mohawk.

Shaun: It definitely added another layer to the game’s surprising complexity. Weapons could be chosen with stats to cover a character’s deficiencies, and pets were a nice bonus that could be very helpful at times. The ram can give you a second of breathing room in a confrontation, and there were animals that could even help you find secrets hidden in the levels.

Chris: Plus, the ram was insanely helpful in winning those duels for kisses. That was the most important part of the game, after all.

Shaun: Rams…and the ability to electrocute the other players for three straight minutes. Get trapped in that and it’s over.

Lee: I think I got to kiss a princess once. I was purposely letting Chris die the entire boss fight just so I could get some sugar.

Chris: No wonder the game seemed so hard to me. I liked the items, too, even if they weren’t all that important. The bow and arrow was pretty much useless without any points in agility, but fun to mess around with. Sandwiches made you 5x bigger, which is a good lesson for kids. The shovel could dig. The horn…well, you used it once. Still, overall, it was another way of keeping things fresh.

Lee: I kept someone fresh when I shoved him off a cliff with a shovel.

Shaun: That might have been the best single moment of the game.

Chris: I mean, he was made out to be French. So we were shoveling him off that balcony for the sake of freedom.

Shaun: For America.

Lee: Shoveling him just like every other French man has been shoveled.

Chris: We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the best boss fight in the game: Beach volleyball.

Lee: I do not think we ever lost that one. We did have a blowout once. The only thing it was missing was independently bouncing breasts.

Chris: I think we got a shutout once. 10-0. Half of that was because you could just knock down their frontline players, which isn’t exactly how volleyball works but I approve.

Shaun: I would play a full game of that volleyball (editor’s note: You can in the PS3 version due later this year). That was some of most fun I had in Castle Crashers. First of all, it made no sense. Second of all, it was amazingly entertaining. The fate of the world rested on that volleyball match, and it was so easy. Hit it out of your section so it hits the ground on your opponent’s side. That’s it.

Chris: And they played volleyball with honor. When the enemy soldiers lost, they brought you the map you sought. Even though you didn’t know you were seeking it.

Lee: Well, I don’t think it would be a stretch to imagine people could read your mind in that game.

Chris: If they could, they would have seen the unfettered fury in my mind and run away screaming, not attacked me in droves.

Lee: I also was a fan of Corn Boss. You could actually eat parts of him.

Shaun: I was an anti-fan of the corn boss. He just frustrated me because the battle was unnecessarily long.

Chris: Yeah, that battle was fun until he got four times faster when his health got lower. Then you got about three milliseconds to hit him before he went back underground. But you can’t argue with a guy named Corn Boss.

Lee: And his corpse can’t argue with you.

...or this.
…or this.

Frank Castle

Shaun: The colorful bosses and unique style all contributed to the title’s superb pacing, but so did the length of the quest. It was long enough to justify the purchase, but you could knock it out in a dedicated afternoon if you really wanted. Further playthroughs are encouraged thanks to the leveling system. In short, Castle Crashers is just a really solid game that can keep you busy for a very long time.

Chris: Considering this was an XBLA title, and especially considering the price, Castle Crashers was very good. It wasn’t revolutionary and it was barely evolutionary, but it was fun. When you think about it, shouldn’t that be most games’ primary focus?

Shaun: It’s the lesson that Sonic finally learned after a decade of sub mediocrity; instead of trying to reinvent, sometimes it’s better to just stick with what works.

Lee: The fun scale was very high on this game. Despite some shortcomings it was the most fun I had with a side-scroller in a long time. I will keep returning to this game every once in a while because of that experience.

Let's just say you're not super-powerful at the start of the game.
Let’s just say you’re not super-powerful at the start of the game.

Outtakes

Shaun: I only won one duel…and that was because everyone else threw the match so I could kiss the princess at the end that was actually…well, what was that, exactly?

Chris: Your mom.

Lee: She was beautiful on the inside.

Chris: Rainbowy beautiful.

Lee: Flaccidly beautiful.

Shaun: Good. Mom joke. Just great.

Lee: That princess was your mom?

Chris: I went for the high-brow approach.

Lee: Wait, why did you want to kiss your mom?

cornboss

Checkpoint is a series of discussions run by Chris, Shaun and Tech Guy back in their college newspaper days. For more entries in the series, click here.

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