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'Castle Crashers' review: Childish and overrated

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'Castle Crashers'

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After sitting down to play “Castle Crashers” I quickly forgot the purpose of why I was encasing this random enemy in a casket of ice or hacking away across the landscape fighting all manner of beast, foe, and warrior. All you seem to know is that some mystical crystal thing and several females have been stolen from the King and you’re supposed to get them all back, all the while taking out just about everything in your way.

“Castle Crashers” at its core is one of those flash games you used to play in yesteryear after school, and seeing as the creator of the popular flash site Newgrounds is the programmer it makes perfect sense.Developer The Behemoth uses an art style of the game is reminiscent of many of the simplistic yet engrossing games produced in that environment. There’s a cartoon like feeling to the game which suits its juvenile humor and simple combat.

Before you even play the game a screen pops up heavily encouraging you to use a controller, and the game goes so far as to put icons for an Xbox controller next to every menu and in-game tooltip, leading to some fair bit of frustration. It’s quite clear that the transition from console to PC was done hastily at the detriment of the experience. For instance, when my character unlocks a new combo I’m told to press whatever that combo would be on the Xbox. How does this help me? It doesn't. Some menus seem to correspond to correct key I need to press, yet still look like Xbox icons, while others just flat out trick you. For instance, it took me quite some time to realize that to do a combo where I jump in the air and spin my sword I needed to press the space key twice, not the A key like I was told to by the game. Either the developer wants to punish me for using my keyboard or was lazy in porting the game over. I'm not sure which is worse really.

The game itself is fairly entertaining however. Players pick from one of four starting classes each with their own magic ability. One of the classes has poison, another can shoot flames, ice, and electricity. You gain money from killing enemies and random drops that can be used to purchase new weapons at your home castle. Leveling allows you to upgrade your damage, magic, health and defense, or your speed and archery. Eventually you’ll unlock more characters as well. I like the games system for leveling and the speed of the combat, which force you to be fast with your fingers to dodge, deflect and counterattack at lightning speed.

The basics can actually take a bit of work considering it’s often hard to tell if you’re properly lined up with an enemy, but eventually this gets a bit better and you’re off on your inglorious way. Most of the levels tend to have a mini-boss before a larger and more challenging main boss. My advice to you is to bring friends. The game has clear design for multiple players and can be downright difficult solo, especially when enemies start barraging you with range attacks that will just knock you down over and over again. The usual solution to this is jumping around like a freak to close distance. Blocking is a mechanic thankfully, but I found it rather difficult to hit the control button quickly enough so you might need to do some customizing to get things to a more comfortable state.

The game also has animal orbs, which are essentially little animal buddies that follow you around while doing something helpful. The first one I encountered allowed me to move through water unimpeded. Others can help you in combat, provide healing, and so on. They also tend to be pretty cute.

The game comes with an “All You Can Quaff” mode which seems to be nothing but a competitive eating competition where you rapidly click two keys to chow down on various foods in an effort to finish before your fellow gourmands. I found it to be rather pointless honestly. There's no skill involved, just repetitive motion in a simple race. The "Arena" mode is much more fun, pitting you against streams of enemies in a tight space which is for some reason enclosed by giant felines that attack you if you try to leave. Don't ask, I don't know either. The enemies in this mode are aggressive and rapidly close and engage with you, making it a bit more interesting. The mode functions both as a horde mode and as a way to practice it seems.

The game does its best when its cooperative with friends as the combat can get pretty hectic and the game is by no means easy. It can be quite the challenge to find a way to attack amid a hail of arrows and charging bosses but like all games of this type it’s simply a matter of figuring out particular patterns and then adapting to them. With friends, the game does a decent job at making things crazy enough that you’ll have trouble doing that at first until you figure out how to take advantage of the patterns.

While I enjoy the art design and claustrophobic combat there’s something about this game that just feels unsatisfying to me after all is said and done. The game makes ample attempts at humor, all of which feel like they’re stuck in some sort of childish time warp from your elementary school years. During the beginning stages of the game the screen shakes as you progress through a forest stage, alerting you that the boss is approaching. As you progress various forms of animals proceed to hear the ominous footsteps and then proceeds to literally spew diarrhea in fright. Later on the player is made to flee the boss, a giant cat creature of some kind, on the backs of deer, which are literally propelled by a stream of feces. Not long after that a giant bat monster was literally trying to drop steaming poop on me as its primary method of attack. The only conclusion I can make is that this game was designed for a ten year old, through and through. Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate a little crass humor every now and then but this game just feels like it's begging for me to laugh at it out of some sort of compulsive inner need. It's kind of sad really, and I'm definitely not laughing.

Perhaps what irked me most though is how after playing with a friend and beating the boss I was made to save several damsels who had been captured by my enemies at the start of the game who we assume are the King's daughters. As soon as I cut these poor tropes down from their bonds of helplessness my friend and I were made to kill each other over who would receive a kiss as a reward for our hard work. I won the duel, and the woman it seems, who didn't seem to mind I just murdered my friend for her attention. Not five minutes earlier the same friend was desperately reviving me, but as soon as the damsel is involved I'm slitting his throat for a smooch. It’s flat out sexist, there’s really no other word for it. While we're seeing a lot of progress in the gaming community over this type of issue this game is about three full steps backwards. The fact that all the women in the game are set pieces that are stolen and fought over like grade school trading cards really puts me off. And naturally, there are no female characters to choose from.

All in all, “Castle Crashers” has enough annoying elements tend to blot out the fun elements for me. The game feels childish and games like “Hammerwatch” do a much better job of capturing that old school hack and slash feel without irritating me to kingdom come with juvenile humor, button confusion, and blatant sexism. There are really much better games for your money.

If my scathing review hasn't deterred you the game is available on Steam for PC, Xbox 360, and PS3. The PC version is $14.99.

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