Review: Castle Crashers

Oh no, your princesses are in several other castles! Join contributor Timlah as he puckers his lips for the fair maidens and takes a look at Castle Crashers – a title inspired by Flash game history.

Tim, contributorSome men just want to watch the world burn – but that quote certainly doesn’t fit the eccentric Timlah. Geek culture has completely consumed this chilled-out cosplaying conundrum. Regularly smiling and keeping it geeky over on GeekOut South-West, he’s hugely fond of indie games and alternative gaming systems.

Title overview   |   Initial impressions   |   Plot   |   Gameplay   |
Visuals and audio   |   Replay and innovation   |
Screenshots and videos   |   Final thoughts   |   Review round-up

Title overview

Name: Castle Crashers
Developer: The Behemoth
Publisher: The Behemoth
Release date: August 2008
PEGI rating: 16
Platforms: Mac, PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
More information: Official website

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Initial impressions

Is there anyone reading 1001Up right now who used to frequent, or still does, the website Newgrounds? For its time, this site was above and beyond what others delivered and it introduced us to some amazing concepts such as the audio portal, Flash games portal, art portal and forums.

Newgrounds was started by Tom Fulp back in 1995 and he’s been making games ever since. It was all fairly simple to begin with: make Flash titles, put them on his portal, and treat players to come great free games which kept people like myself entertained throughout their school-years and beyond. Teaming up with Dan Paladin once more, Fulp and The Behemoth team put together their second big release in Castle Crashers, after first announcing it at the 2005 San Diego Comic-Con International and taking three years of development. But is it any good or just another Flash game made into something bigger?

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The plot of Castle Crashers is incredibly easy to explain, so here we go: the Evil Wizard has taken the magic crystal from the King’s Castle and has kidnapped four princesses along with it. It’s up to you, one of the four knights, to defeat your nemesis! To do this you must crash all four of the castles, rescue the fair maidens, and beat all of the henchmen and monsters of the world before defeating the Evil Wizard himself and recovering the magic crystal.

This isn’t a title where you play for a deep, meaningful story which represents life, death and everything between.

If I were to describe the storyline in just one word it would be ‘simple’. In a world where we’re consumed by the view that bigger-is-better, I often opt for simpler times and as such I enjoy simple plots in games. This isn’t a title where you play for a deep, meaningful story which represents life, death and everything between; this is one of those times where you play as a fictional knight and crash some castles, save some princesses and go on an epic quest.

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Castle Crashers is your typical side-scrolling action game, where you play as one of four knights and you have to go and kill hundreds of enemies in order to rescue your princesses. It’s really simple to pick up and play, with most attacks being done with just one button and perhaps some directional input.

Whilst we’re talking about how attacks are done, there are three main ways to fight: with weapons, magic spells or archery. You can also block attacks and jump, as well as do combos in the air with your weapons, and get power ups such as the mighty sandwich! There’s something satisfying about eating a snack which makes you beefy; so beefy in fact that you can rip down large metal doors and just run through hordes of enemies.

It’s easy to pick up and play, but not so easy learning the strategies of all of the bosses.

Another great feature about the gameplay is that whilst it’s easy to pick up and play, it’s not so easy learning the strategies of all of the bosses. For example, one of my favourite encounters is with the ingeniously-named Catfish. You’re in the water and have the Kings boat helping you fight, the goal being to hit the enemy and let the vessel do the bulk of the damage. It doesn’t tell you that’s what you should do however (you can just beat it by damaging it) but it’s by far the easiest and most effective way; Catfish charges, swats at you and throws up hairballs. It’s not easy for those who don’t know how.

When you level up, you can allocate some points to your stats of which there are four: Strength, Magic, Defence and Agility. If you were to level up just one you’d become incredibly strong in that area, but in return you risk being stomped by the stronger enemies. Likewise, you’ll find each fight takes longer if you level up equally, so it’s a case of getting an idea for what you want your character to be. Each level gives you two stat points until you reach level thirty when it reduces down to just one per level.

There are pets and weapons in this game which help in different ways. An example is Piggy… which is literally a pig. Piggy increases the effects of eating food in the game, making each piece that much more useful; then there’s the golden whale, who occasionally blows out a piece of gold.

If there were no modifiers on weapons then hitting an opponent with a lobster would be just as effective as slashing them with a broadsword.

Weapons help with the player by affecting the stats. They don’t appear to have any damage unto themselves; for example, if there were no modifiers on them then hitting an opponent with a lobster would be just as effective as slashing them with a broadsword. The stats on the equipment go towards the stats on your character, and the highest I’ve seen for a single figure in the title is a whopping additional six points.

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Visuals and audio

The world of Castle Crashers is bright, colourful and very cartoon-esque. It reminds me of the great 1990s and early-2000 cartoons such as Ed, Edd n Eddy, Courage the Cowardly Dog and Cow and Chicken. There’s that hint of the disgusting, along with a bit of brutal, all wrapped up in a beautifully-drawn magical world.

The designs of the knights are really simply done, with rectangular-like heads and stubby little features. The weapons and pets are instantly recognisable as to what they’re supposed to be. My favourite animal from the game was Scratchpaw, who was more or less a tiny little tiger who happens to look lost wherever he goes.

It sounds as if the music was ripped directly out of a high-fantasy movie with a bit of a modern twist.

The audio in this game is another strong area. It sounds as if the music was ripped directly out of a high-fantasy movie with a bit of a modern twist. Feeling like you’re listening to a full orchestral band each time you play is a great way to get you in the mood for crashing castles along the way. From the moment you boot the title up to the moment you enter a map, each song from the soundtrack has been shaped to fit the theme of the map perfectly. One of my favourite examples is when you meet the ritualistic bear tribe; their mini-boss is head-banging to make the rain come down and it sounds like a tribal war theme in the background. Perfection!

Even the basic sounds are spot on. I’ll revert to Catfish fight for this as you can hear yourself swimming in the river; you’ll also hear his “Mrao!” noise at key times, which helps you understand the encounter better. Next up you have the sound of Catfish throwing up the hairballs. All of the effects are executed correctly and it helps provide a key clue as to how well you’re doing in the title.

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Replay and innovation

The replay value of Castle Crashers is entirely down to how much of a completionist you are when it comes to video games, how much you like collectables, and whether you have any friends willing to play the title with you. If you don’t have the latter you might opt out early; but if you want to do and collect everything, go ahead and unlock all the weapons and pets. Heck, I’ve not even played much on the ‘insane’ mode that I unlocked for beating the game! Don’t fret readers – I certainly am going to beat it completely.

Although Castle Crashers is certainly quite different to most games of its kind, it isn’t actually all that innovative.

With regard to innovation, I’d argue that although Castle Crashers is certainly quite different to most games of its kind, it isn’t actually all that innovative. It has a really fluid combat system and along with an effective multiplayer mode and With this in mind, it’s pretty good in terms of the underlying technology; but this isn’t really all that innovative, just technically sound.

What I will praise this title for however is the fact it has a very clever weapon system. Instead of a crafting system, you find these weapons throughout the game in a variety of places and from various enemies. You’re made to go back to certain maps to find tools which then feel like they belong to the place you found them – and one weapon even opens a door to a secret pet. The game thrives on having these clever little tricks.

You’ll notice arenas in the single-player campaign. These are designed for you to battle through and unlock new characters to play as. When you switch over to multiplayer however, you get an entirely different experience: the arenas function is now served as a four-way fight between the knights. During the multiplayer campaign, you’ll fight in a few scenarios with your friends to decide who gets to steal a smooch off of the princesses you save.

The problem is that if you pay the full price for a single copy, it’s a relatively short game for the cost.

This is all sounding too good to be true so what about value for money? First of all, and this might be a slightly minor point here, but when I purchased Castle Crashers I was able to get the bundle for just £3.99. Let me tell you now readers: that was the few quid I ever spent on a game as I gifted three copies friends and have played with them – and it is fun. The problem is that if you pay the full price for a single copy – £9.99 on Steam right now – it’s a relatively short game for the cost. Furthermore, if you don’t have another person to play with, you might not want to keep playing.

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Screenshots and videos

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Final thoughts

Basically, Castle Crashers is a perfect action-adventure beat-em-up game. It combines combo-attacks and sound strategy against bosses but it also lets you go downright silly and nuts on the keys if you want to. It’s really easy to pick up and play and whether you choose single or multiplayer, it’s a blast. If you play the game alone however, expect to draw away from it at some point; but if you have a group of dedicated friends to crash castles with, expect to be beating one another in the arenas – a lot. And watch out for people who decide to go down the path of archery: it’s powerful and fun!

I’ve given it some high praise in this article but here comes a shocking turn of events: would I recommend this game as a candidate for a 1001 list? No. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll love every minute of it especially if you’re one of the Flash gamers of the world, but it’s just not quite a title you must play. You’ll certainly have a lot of fun with Castle Crashes and it’s awesome to bicker with your pals over it, but that’s that.

A team of four is really where Castle Crashers excels.

However, I’d still highly recommend you give it an immediate try but mostly if you can get a bunch of willing friends to play with you. A team of four is really where Castle Crashers excels; it’s a rough gem which beautifully came to life thanks to one Flash game website, Newgrounds. Whilst it’s not a Flash title itself, it’s nice to see that people who worked on them went on to make releases of this calibre.

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Review round-up

Reviewed: PC
Source: We purchased a bundle from Steam for £3.99 during a sale
Positive: Exceptionally well-designed, especially online multiplayer
Negative: A little short at full price
Score: 49 out of 60
Grade: Buy it now!
Castle Crashers, video game, review, graph, Buy it now!

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