Castle Crashers was a return to the glory days of the beat-’em-up when it first hit Xbox Live in 2008. A sleek and cartoony take on a classic, then-forgotten genre. With a range of characters to choose from (initially four, but six in Remastered with yet more to unlock), up to four players get to tackle over twenty levels of violence in order to rescue princesses from a rogue’s gallery of amusing villains.
The wit and charm of The Behemoth’s creations are all evident in Castle Crashers Remastered. From the opening party full of knights throwing devil horns to gentle medieval music, to the utterly amazing end sequence (which, if you’ve never seen before, is pure delirious joy), Castle Crashers is an endearing, sometimes hilarious, experience full of visual gags and unapologetic silliness that’s helped along by Dan Paladin’s terrific art and animation.
The hacking and slashing action is almost superb. Almost. I say “almost” because it can be difficult to line up your attacks thanks to the marriage of chaotic art style with precise hit boxes. It’s tricky, but once you get a hold of your enemies and start hacking off heads, it’s brilliant fun that threatens to cripple one’s fingers.
Every character plays more or less identically, with the same combos and basic attacks. Each one has its own magic power, however, setting it apart from the others. From poison clouds to devastating rainbows, each spell behaves the same but has a unique look and a few special properties. There are also a ton of weapons and animal familiars to unlock, boosting a range of passive abilities.
Whatever warrior you choose, you’ll be in for a substantial quest. Not only does the main game last for over twenty levels, but you can collect experience points and train your characters up to level 99, allocat skill points to boost attack, magic, defence and agility, all whilst earning new combos and spells. EXP fiends will certainly have their work cut out.
While Castle Crashers retains all the good of the old-school brawler, it also retains everything that makes them frustrating. Enemies, for example, will be more than happy to attack you from both sides, and they spam their projectile attacks to almost farcical levels at times. This can be incredibly annoying, especially if you’re playing solo. Of course, adding between two and three allies to the mix evens the odds considerably, and this is where Castle Crashers Remastered truly comes to life.
As already mentioned, up to four people can team up, which makes for a considerably different experience. With four friends on screen, an already chaotic game becomes an overwhelming anarchy, and for the vast majority of the game you won’t even know what’s happening. Are you winning? Are you getting your arse kicked? You barely know, and you barely care, because you’re having too much fun to make sense of the fireballs and bodies flying around the screen.
All the memories of co-operative beat-’em-ups come flooding back — from having to apologise when you accidentally take a health item someone sorely needed, to the inevitable (and wonderfully stereotypical) moments where allies have to turn on each other to get the girl. Despite the co-op, there is a competitive element to each round of Castle Crashers, but it’s such a fun and friendly competition that nobody really minds losing.
And that right there is Castle Crashers‘ greatest weapon – the ability to make you not care. Even if you lose your temper at being shot to pieces by a bunch of cheap archers, you’ll soon forget about it and laugh at a puerile poop joke, or go beat up the Barbarian Boss again to feel good about yourself. Castle Crashers refuses to take itself seriously, and if you dare try to do so yourself, you’ll look and feel ridiculous.
The soundtrack is one of the best musical collections around, even seven years after its initial launch. It bursts with memorable and infectious tunes culled from a number of indie artists. Despite the disparate tunes, they all seem to form a cohesive sound, linked in their exuberant desire to go completely over the top.
Visually, Castle Crashers Remastered is hard to tell apart from its original release, mainly because it always looked damn good. It’s hard to improve upon the crisp visual quality of Crashers‘ cartoon artwork, though it proudly runs at 60fps as you might expect, while texture sizes have been given a significant boost to create a bolder look.
The online mode runs pretty well, especially given how notoriously doubtful it was in 2008. For the most part, I’ve been having a smooth online experience, though there has been notable lag in certain areas, especially when going up against a boss with a full four-player roster.
The new mode, Back Off Barbarian, adds a little extra flavor to the package. It’s a sort of board game, where you must move your character around a grid by pressing the correct coloured buttons while avoiding enemies. Due to the character’s directional movement being governed by colours and not by the actual directional input, it’s a strangely challenging little game that, while not providing enough depth to be worth playing much, makes for a decent little distraction.
Sadly, Back Off Barbarian fully replaces the other multiplayer mini-game, All You Can Quaff. While it was a dumb button-mashing affair, it had its own brand of charm. I would rather have had both these minigames rather than one replace the other.
Castle Crashers Remastered is every bit as wonderful as it was the first time around. Bright, cheerful, packed with things to do, and rocking some classic brawler action, it looks as beautiful as ever and there’s no excuse not to give it a look.
It’s just as fresh as it was back in the day.