There’s very little about Battleblock Theater that’s new. Last year’s Puppeteer was also a platformer that took place within the confines of a stage (and featured an over-the-top narrator), the block-based aesthetic is straight out of Blocks that Matter, and the lovingly (and bizarre) hand-drawn art could be out of any number of indie titles, from the similarly difficult Super Meat Boy, to developer Behemoth’s previous hit, Castle Crashers. Then again, since we’re talking about blocks, there hasn’t been anything truly “new” about the basic Lego in forever, but that doesn’t stop it from being popular and full of potential.
Thanks to the sheer volume of options present here, Battleblock Theater never runs short on imagination or charm. The regular story mode alone easily features over a hundred levels, as does the cooperative campaign, which echoes Portal 2 in the way that it effortlessly encourages players to screw one another over in humorous ways as much as to ultimately work together. Beyond that, there’s an Arena mode and level editor, and while both are more limited than those found in LittleBigPlanet, they’re also more immediately comic and accessible. For instance, instead of capturing the flag, you attempt to steal (and ride) the other team’s horse back to your base. And while combat in the main campaign always feels at odds with the puzzling and platforming, it’s entirely at home in the combative Muckle mode, which brings Smash Bros. to mind with weird weapons like an exploding paper airplane and vacuum cleaner.
The one slight issue with Battleblock Theater is that the controls are slightly sticky, which is problematic given some of the hairpin leaps that the game asks you to make. For one, the double-jump doesn’t always trigger properly, especially when leaping off of hanging rails, and disappearing platforms can sometimes leave you pulling a Wile E. Coyote, hanging vulnerably in mid-air before dropping. (The enemy AI is also wonky, though to be fair, your foes are well-armed cats, so I assume that’s at least a bit intentional/cute.) It’s a minor issue, though those who play through on the checkpoint-free Insane mode may need to take an anger management class afterward, or, as the game puts it, learn how to “clench their butts” and “buckle their pants.”
Battleblock Theater succeeds at walking the line between funny and fun: It’s hard to stay mad upon narrowly failing a challenging bonus level when the game is constantly reminding you that you simply need to “Get the best time to win! Get the worst time to lose!” Normally, getting pushed into a spike pit by an enemy would be infuriating, but when said foe is a burning piece of toast, it’s easier to simply give in to the absurdity, or, for those more grounded in reality, the addictive soundtrack. (The chicken-beat-boxing music that plays during a secret level is almost worth the $15 price alone.) With so many amusing ways to live and die, the question in this theater isn’t “To be or not to be?” but “How much longer can I play for?”
Battleblock Theater is now available from the Behemoth. To purchase it, click here.