need to know
Expect to pay: £11 / $15
Release: Out now
Developer: The Behemoth
Publisher: The Behemoth
Multiplayer: Online and local
Link: Official site
Flash games aren't the crucible of indie talent that they once were, but Battleblock Theater carries the legacy of those halcyon days. The technology might have changed, but this is a game from the culture that produced Meat Boy and N+. It's by The Behemoth, the guys that made Alien Hominid and Castle Crashers, and it marks a sea change in how much indie developers are capable of achieving with a single game. It's a platform adventure, a co-op and versus multiplayer game, a creative suite and a comedy revue.
You're an anonymous doughy prisoner, stranded in a dilapidated theatre run by cats in the sway of a haunted hat; cats who build deadly platform challenges out of blocks and make prisoners like you run them for laughs.
In the regular game, the aim is to collect gems to unlock the exit while seeking bonus gems and balls of golden yarn to unlock new weapons and unlockable bonus heads for your character. Progression is a mix of rapid, accurate movement—your abilities include double jumping, wall jumping, sliding and dashing—and puzzle solving based on the blocks you're faced with.
What sets Battleblock Theater apart, in the first case, is that its levels are contraptions. Blocks interact with one another according to a consistent internal logic, and this logic is used to create challenges that the player can tinker with. You might encounter a platform that fades in and out of existence on a regular timer—but this timer isn't set by some behind-the-scenes clock.
It's determined by a laser block, situated elsewhere in the level, that regularly fires at a switch block that triggers the platform. Block the laser at the correct time and you can prevent the beam from hitting the switch, stopping the vanishing platform from disappearing—and so on. You'll crack dozens of puzzles like this over the course of the adventure, and a full block-based level editor expands the potential challenge exponentially.
It's all presented wonderfully. Battleblock Theater is a very funny, sharply written game, narrated with incredible energy. Puppet theatre cutscenes put a smile on your face and intermittent lines of voiceover keep it there. Then there are the excellent songs, particularly the hilarious, nonsensical scatting that accompanies secret levels. There's a lot of The Muppets in Battleblock Theater, in the best possible way.
The adventure is also playable in co-op—either local or online—which adjusts the levels to require you to throw each other, help each other up ledges, and so on. It's a great way to play the game.
Competitive play is a bit of a letdown by comparison. Even though there are a huge number of modes, including cow-capturing and deathmatch, it's not on par with Nidhogg or TowerFall. That, however, is a small downside in an otherwise worthy package.