Battleblock Theater Strategic Preview (Xbox Live Arcade)

The latest game from the creators of Castle Crashers is finally on its way to being finished. Find out what to expect here.

The name The Behemoth might not be familiar to all gamers out there, but for those who prefer hand-drawn action efforts, it’ll definitely ring a bell.  This team is responsible for the side-scrolling shooting opus Alien Hominid, as well as the best-selling co-op beat-em-up Castle Crashers, which remains a highly popular title on Xbox Live Arcade to this very day.

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Next up from the team is a game called Battleblock Theater, one that’s been in development for a long time.  We’re talking at least four years, when it was initially announced back in March 2009.  But after spending so much time in development – with stops at events like PAX East and PAX Prime along the way – it’s finally nearing the finish line, as the developer is launching a closed beta for it and readying it for a spring 2013 release.

Rather than follow the same brawling style of Castle Crashers, Battleblock Theater instead goes for a side-scrolling set-up.  The story revolves around Hatty Hattington, a square-headed adventurer who’s teamed up with a nameless ally as they hit the open sea.  One night, following a shipwreck, they wash ashore on an island, where a mysterious theater is located.

It’s here that Hatty reveals his true colors and turns on you, the nameless bloke who’s befriended him, along with all the prisoners.  Over the course of the game, you’ll face challenges that are laid out like epic, disaster-filled plays, surviving each one and eventually looking for a way to get even with your gold-grubbing chum.

After creating a character from scratch (from which you have different facial styles and head shapes available – you don’t necessarily have to stick to a round one), you’ll team up with a friend and make your way through Hatty’s scenarios.  These trouble-filled worlds are loaded with enemies and platforming challenges, all of which require you to work alongside your friend if you’re going to survive.  In some cases, you’ll need to use each other to reach higher-up ledges, by standing on their head.  You’ll also need to use combat techniques to your advantage, including punching (to daze someone), pouncing on someone’s head (to kill them) or firing a weapon.

It wouldn’t be a full Theater without Battleblocks, and there are plenty to run across over the course of each stage. Some of them are just hazardous to teach, including spiked ones that can impale you in a jiffy and laser cannons ready to blast you to smithereens.  However, you can use different weapons over the course of the game to fight back, whether it’s disintegrating certain blocks in the atmosphere, or more destructive means that can obliterate enemies in seconds.  You’ll also be able to access power-ups that lend a hand over the course of the game.  One particular favorite is a pair of wings that allow you to fly around with ease, while also helping out your partner so they don’t die while they’re grounded.

Like Castle Crashers and Alien Hominid, Battleblock Theater has a somewhat crude – yet likable – animation style, as well as level designs that will challenge even the best platforming fans, with difficult jumps to clear and plenty of secrets to find.

And along with the main levels within the game, Battleblock will also include a variety of mini-games, ones you can compete in alongside – or against – your theatrical allies.  Though the list hasn’t been fully finalized yet, we’ve gotten a glimpse at a few of these in action…

The first is an interesting king-of-the-hill game, where, surprise, you have to beat out everyone else and possess a “hot spot” in the longest time possible.  We’re hoping that not only does this game remain intact, but it’s supported by Xbox Live.

Then there’s a fun little soccer game, one where each team tries to knock around a ball and eventually shoot it into a nearby goal, without the other team getting in the way.  There’s no kick button necessary here, you just bump into it at a degree to move it where you want it to go.

My personal favorite, however, is a block painting game, where you move around and try to color all the blocks of the board the same shade as your player.  You’ll have to watch out for other players, however, as they can easily possess flashing squares that are just outside your reach.  The one with the most squares shaded like them wins the match.

Though it sounds a bit more bizarre than what Castle Crashers did with its co-op factor, Battleblock Theater is surprisingly addictive, retaining that “Behemoth touch” while presenting something new.  You can find more information about the game – and its recently launched beta – at the official Behemoth web page.

Battleblock Theater will release for Xbox Live Arcade this spring.

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