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Castle Crashers


Broken multi-player crashes Behemoth's Castle
Behemothís first Xbox Live Arcade title was Alien Hominid HD, a frantic old-school shooter with a high difficulty level. Their second offering, Castle Crashers, is more laid back and open for casual players. The presentation matches the styling of Alien Hominid as the artistic flair and level design are absolutely brilliant.

Thereís not much of a narrative that goes along with the game. The Kingís daughters are kidnapped by some evil-doers. The main character is a brave knight sent out to rescue all the princesses. The knight treks over various types of land and storms the castles that hold the young maidens. It basically works as a premise, but the loose narration doesnít do the game any favors.

Gameplay

The knight has three types of attacks at his disposal; quick, heavy and magic. Quick and heavy attacks use the melee weapons and the magic attacks of the core characters are based on the elements. The object of the game is to scroll through the levels and kill each small group of enemies along the way. There are typically bosses every couple of levels as well as large monsters to kill.

Combat is generally frantic and occasionally frustrating. Enemies with ranged weapons often pose a nagging threat. If the character is tagged with an arrow or spear from behind, it can be hard to get back up at times. Enemies also have the power to walk off the screen while you cannot. It can be hard to destroy a soldier that keeps moving out of range. Boss combat is generally simpler due to their large size and predictable attack movements. That being said, itís common to die the first time when fighting a new boss. Playing through the level again is a nice boost to experience though.

There is a plethora of weaponry on the levels and inside the small shops along the main path. Each weapon applies modifiers to the character. For instance, there is a wizard staff that offers a +4 bonus to magic skills. Itís not going to help a character built with strength in mind through. My favorite weapon is the teal mini-lightsaber. Itís incredibly quick and offers a speedy recovery during large battles. A small pet peeve with the weaponry is the lack of weapon recovery after a boss fight. It seems like my little character should be able to take the boss weapon if I wanted it.

Animal orbs are handy little floating heads that follow around your Castle Crashers character. They can add little bonus modifiers to stats, offer extra attack modes or find hidden objects along the levels. You have to visit the animal orb expert in the stables near the blacksmith to find out what they do. My favorite is the Ram head for knocking down pesky archers. I also liked the spiky urchin that boosted my defense in the lava levels.

Experience points build up and new levels offer bonuses to strength, magic, defense or speed. Itís up to the player to distribute the points between levels. Health and gold can be found in every level. Gold is nice for purchasing new weapons or animal orbs. You can find health potions, arrows, bombs and other goodies in the various shops.

Multiplayer over Xbox Live is an enormous failure. The three modes of play are enjoyable but getting into them is nearly impossible. 90% of the time, the quick match selection connects you to a game thatís already full. Instead of searching for a new game, it boots you back out to the menu. Choosing any supposedly open custom match is also often full and the same match is displayed as open on the next search! Creating a match to invite friends isnít working correctly either.

If you do happen to find an open party or create your own, the game can freeze the console after entering the lobby and the 360 has to be reset. Iíve also had the console freeze during a quick match search. If your party leader actually manages to start a round, the game likes to disconnect players during the loading screen. Finding a 4-player co-op game is ridiculously improbable with the game in its current broken state. Online multi-player in Castle Crashers is a massively frustrating experience and should be completely avoided until Behemoth fixes it. Local multi-player is perfectly fine though.

The achievement set is a well balanced group of tasks that offers challenges to both casual and hardcore players. There are a few collection quests and a variety of level requirement achievements. Itís nice to see a game that offers a more creative approach to achievement distribution rather than simply assigning them as ďLevel CompleteĒ tasks. The three online achievements arenít worth attempting until the modes are fixed.

Graphics & Audio

The artwork and the character animations are absolutely fantastic. Similar to Alien Hominid HD, the stunning visuals and overlaying graphic elements pop off the screen with vibrant beauty. The effects are well animated and match the visual appeal of the hand-drawn graphics. The soundtrack is light and bouncy. It reminded me of early adventure titles on the Sega Genesis. The sound effects are suitable for the genre.

Conclusion

Castle Crashers is an entertaining brawler, but the replay value is chopped into little frustrating bits by a horrifically painful online experience. Iím left wondering why I spent $15 (1200 MS points) on a five-hour single player game. Multiple playthoughs will unlock new characters, but the repetitive nature is tiresome. Avoid purchasing Castle Crashers until the developer sorts the major online problems out. Skip it (for now)