I REALLY love Castle Crashers. When the original release hit the Xbox 360 back in 2008, I was absolutely hooked to it and poured a TON of hours across co-op, single player and the little mini-games it offered. I’d spent even more hours on the game’s remastered release that hit the Xbox One too, and now that the game is finally available on the Nintendo Switch I’m ready to put more time in again. Being able to take part of an anarchic adventure that’s full of heroic colourful knights, evil wizards, princesses to save, farting bears and, of course, some ‘castle crashing’ on the go? That really makes for something special.
Castle Crashers follows the classic 2D side-scrolling beat ‘em up formula with the player taking on the role of one of many vibrant knights, each of which have different elements assigned to their magic abilities. From here, they begin their journey to defeat the Dark Wizard; an enemy of the Kingdom who has not only stole a mystical gem but kidnapped four princesses. Of course, given that this is a game from The Behemoth, you can expect plenty of charm and quirky humour packed into the adventure – something that is apparent in everything from level design to the beastly enemies you face off against. There aren’t many games that have you battle with a giant Corn, but you can expect the likes of that here.
Gameplay consists of players battling through a constant barrage of enemies as they work through the game’s many levels. This is done through basic combat, with your main move boiling down to button-bashing to hit attacks with your weapon. Weapons are plentiful in the game; you may start with a sword, a mace or perhaps an axe, but by the end of the game you would’ve used a more creative arsenal made up of the likes of a carrot, a lobster, a candle stick or even a fish. There’s certainly no lack of creativity with the weaponry featured in Castle Crashers, and it again demonstrates The Behemoth’s trademark humour. Besides your weapons, you also have access to a variety of magic, with each character in the game offering something different.
Enemies you encounter get trickier as you progress through the game. Luckily, defeating enemies rewards you with experience points that can be used to level up. You have strength, magic, defense and agility attributes to improve – you’ll require balanced upgrades if you’re going to survive the many trials that will face you in the game. Levelling up will also rewards you with different attack combos; whilst you’ll only have access to a basic set of move to begin with, by level fifty you’ll be smashing enemies apart with ease. The progression is wholly satisfying, even if it doesn’t necessarily do anything that you wouldn’t have seen before.
You’ll travel across a variety of stages as you look to save the Kingdom. Starting from your Home Castle, you’ll eventually venture through the likes of the Thieves’ Woods, Medusa’s Lair and even a Space Ship along your travels. The environments all look fantastic; everything is hand-drawn and absolutely full the brim of with vibrant colours and charming little details. Everything just looks brilliant in game and it’s hard not to be in awe of your surroundings, even when playing on the Nintendo Switch’s handheld mode (which runs perfectly).
The same quality is apparent with character design too. Whilst the knights all have a similar design with the main difference being their colour, the variety of enemies is great: you’ll encounter enemy knights, trolls, barbarians, demons, imps, skeletons and even aliens just to name a few. Creativity is blooming and almost every character you encounter is both beautiful and bizarre in design. Boss battles pump the creativity up even further, with their impressive looks matched by their vicious abilities – these highly entertaining encounters are plentiful, with each boss requiring a bit more thinking if you’re going to take it down.
Luckily, whilst Castle Crashers is full of enemies looking for your blood there are also plenty of allies who will help you out. Similar to Golden Axe, you are able to ride upon the back of mounts who offer extra attacks. My favourite is the deer; it’s just fitting for the absurdity of the world. You can also find Animal Orbs: little animal mascot-like creatures that support you on your adventure, offering a range of abilities including stat buffs or experience boosts among many more. These creatures are ridiculously cute, and you’ll find yourself carefully hunting through each level trying to find as many as you can.
Of course, the best kind of assistance in a game like Castle Crashers is that of an extra player, so you’ll be glad to see that the game boasts both local and online co-op for up to four players. This is where Castle Crashers is at its very best; whilst single player is fun to play through, nothing beats taking down the Dark Wizard with a group of friends. It’s chaotic but so entertaining, and especially easy to pull off on the go thanks to the Nintendo Switch’s multiple joy-cons.
There’s also a variety of multiplayer mini-games to play through, including new addition ‘Back Off Barbarian’ where you carefully jump through levels avoiding enemies. If you’re just interested in smashing through some enemies you can play the ‘Arena’ mode, where you’re tasked with taking down a constant stream of enemies on your own or with a friend. They’re both fine additions to the experience and give players a little something extra to do.
Despite being a huge fan of Castle Crashers, I do recognise that it has some flaws. Outside of the multiplayer, the game can feel a little repetitive at times. Some levels can be a little samey in design from a gameplay perspective, and whilst some elements of levels do spice them up, it is normally with the boss battles where they differ up the most. Whilst this isn’t such a problem when playing with friends, it becomes all the more apparent when playing alone. Most players will notice the game doesn’t really do anything new either; there’s nothing original or massively innovative here, but just a mashup of features that we’ve seen in countless scrolling beat ‘em ups before. These aren’t game-breaking issues though and they won’t ruin your experience with the game – while Castle Crashers might not do anything new, the things it does do are done incredibly well.
I’ve played through a ton of games in my time and there are plenty that have made a lasting impression on me – Castle Crashers is one of those titles. Being able to play it on the Nintendo Switch just felt magical, with the anarchically charming adventure proving to be a brilliant romp when you’ve got a quick ten-minutes to play on the go, when you’ve got someone to share your second Joy-Con with, or even in online when you can go on a wild adventure with three friends. It’s just a blast to play and an essential purchase for all Nintendo Switch owners.
Developer: The Behemoth
Publisher: The Behemoth
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC