When it came out over a decade ago, Castle Crashers took us by surprise. After all, prior to its release, the developers at The Behemoth previously became known for the side-scrolling Contra-esque shoot-em-up Alien Hominid HD.
Then Crashers landed on the Xbox 360 and took the world by storm, introducing a beautiful, hand-drawn beat-em-up akin to the old days of Final Fight and Streets of Rage but with some strategies thrown in for good measure. Sure, you could pound some buttons and beat a few enemies as a result, but it was utilizing some of the new moves you unlock over the course of the game, and trading up those precious weapons to more powerful tools, that would win you the day. Not to mention the four maidens kidnapped by your mysterious foe.
Since its initial release, Castle Crashers has spread its legacy across a number of platforms including: the PlayStation 3, PC and the Xbox One with the Remastered version that came out a little while ago. Soon, however, the Crashers will make their way to the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4, expanding their reach and audience to a whole new level. After all, the Switch by itself is a juggernaut, especially as far as beat-em-ups are concerned.
Sharpen Those Swords
The game places you in the midst of a fictional universe during medieval times. It’s here that the knights, the “castle crashers” in question, are having fun at a party being held by a king’s castle.
However, it isn’t long before a dark wizard chooses to crash the party, along with an army of goblins. He obtains a large gem from the king’s chair, along with the four maidens in question his daughters. Thrown off by the wizard’s attack, the king commands the knights to save the gem and the girls in no particular order.
The game supports up to four players, either online or locally. This is a known go-to tactic for many beat-em-ups like this, which go with the rule of “the more, the merrier.” Granted, that can mean more chaos if you don’t watch who you’re swinging at (maybe have “friendly fire” turned on for those first few match-ups), but it can also mean additional strength when it comes to taking on the strange bosses that the game has to offer.
Along the way, the knights can get powered up with the help of new weaponry that can be obtained through shops and sellers over the course of their journey, which is spread across a large map. There are some areas that require items in order for you to proceed, while others simply stand as the latest test before you can move forward with rescuing the next maiden. It’s all laid out beautifully, and you can try previous stages if you feel like taking on a challenge again.
All You Can Quaff
Castle Crashers isn’t one of these arcade brawlers that’s done in like a half hour’s time. The Behemoth programmed this beast with a variety of challenges that will take you a few hours to get through, either on your own or with friends in tow. That’s the best kind of beat-em-up, one that offers a continuous value as you make your way through it.
Not to mention the variety of stages that you’ll take on over the course of your journey. This includes swimming in water and tackling a gigantic “cat fish” (not catfish), or fighting through a forest that’s filled with dangerous beasts- the kind that would cause a bear to poop himself relentlessly out of sheer fear. You’ll also take on tougher brutes over the course of the game, including a heavily armed black knight and eventually the wizard, who has a few surprises up his sleeve.
Along with the main game, which will take you a few hours to get through, Castle Crashers also provides some interesting side modes to check out. The first is “All You Can Quaff,” which serves as an arena challenge where various enemies come at you, and you have to cut them down to size as quickly as possible. As a result, you’ll reap a few rewards before the next wave kicks off, posing an even greater threat than the last one you faced.
There’s also a new side game that’s been added recently called Back Off Barbarian, and to describe it as simply bizarre would be doing it a disservice. This mini-game works on a board game-style set-up, where players have to move around a map while avoiding threats that continue to pursue them.
Rather than relying on simple movements to go around the board, you have to press in certain directions to progress. These are highlighted over the character’s head, so you have a good idea of what you need to do next in order to survive. The catch is that these speed up as the competition becomes more and more merciless, forcing you to react quickly in the hopes of being the last knight standing.
A Nice Boost Forward On the Switch
From what we could tell, The Behemoth didn’t have the PlayStation 4 version of Castle Crashers on the floor of PAX East this past week. Instead, it opted to give the focus to the Nintendo Switch version, which makes sense considering the popularity of the platform.
That said, we can’t think of a better indie game that would feel right at home on the system. Well, okay, maybe Cuphead, but we already know we’ll be getting that in a couple of weeks; Castle Crashers easily takes a pretty tight second place spot.
The developer had two different versions on hand: a portable version and a “docked” version to show off the detail on a big-screen television, and they were both great.
The handheld version of Crashers seems to run very smoothly, though it was set up in single player instead of the traditional multiplayer. That’s just fine, as the game maintained a smooth frame rate and solid hand-drawn details throughout. Not to mention that they really take up the screen in the best way possible, making this fun to watch on the portable front.
As for “docked,” it looks terrific as well. In fact, the details are right up there with the Xbox One version, with a speedy frame rate and even more attention to detail when it comes to the animations and beautiful backdrops. Oh, and the humorous moments seem a little more fun on the big-screen as well. Let’s all watch animals poop out of fear, especially the deer that goes flying off the screen.
The multiplayer component of the game still looks very dynamic with Castle Crashers on the Switch as well. Watching players team up together can be an absolute blast, especially against bosses that you’d think would be near impossible to beat. However, with the right battle crew, you can get things done.
Then there’s the sheer innovation of the boss design. Everything from the brute with the fake face mask to the “cat fish” boss we described earlier to some other enemies that pose a great challenge but also pop a little smile on your face. This is mainly due to The Behemoth’s creativity, which shines through in particular ways with each new stage you come across. No matter which way you play, you’ll find that the Nintendo Switch edition lives up to the hype.
Gameplay Shines Through
As for the key component that makes Castle Crashers shine, the gameplay, we’re happy to report that the Switch version didn’t lag in the least. No matter which way you decide to play, either “docked” or in portable mode, you’ll find the controls to be quite responsive.
Case in point, you’ll need to embrace a number of beat-em-up tactics when it comes to the game. This includes a pair of striking attacks that you can mix together to knock enemies into the air for multiple hits, but there are also arrows that can be fired from a distance, as well as special techniques that can be unlocked. This includes a sweet spinning attack that hits everyone from a fairly good range once it’s unlocked.
That said, you may want to keep an eye open. Some enemies don’t mind being cheap and hitting you with multiple arrows in a row. As a result, it can be quick for you to lose a life if you’re not too careful. Fortunately, there’s more than enough fruit that you can grab in a stage for a quick pick-me-up in health. Just keep an eye open, and mind your friends attempting to bogart it first. HEY, I JUST CALLED THAT APPLE, JERK!
Then there are the role-playing elements within the game. Not necessarily in the gameplay, but in the weapons and other items that you can purchase within the shops and through certain vendors. These include everything from battle axes to special gear to make your character slightly stronger. You’ll also find lots of coins that you can use as currency over the course of the game.
Not only that, but you can unlock spirit icons as well that provide a secondary boost. For instance, there’s a floating goat’s head that can actually hit someone with a quick dash attack, if they’re aligned properly. You can upgrade to new ones as you find them over the course of the game as well, in case you feel the need to mix things up.
Finally, the Nintendo Switch version of Castle Crashers comes with some great secondary characters to unlock. Hopefully, we’ll see the Pink Knight make their return, along with the Alien Hominid soldier from the Xbox 360 game of the same name. They were fun guests before, and they can be again here. And hopefully the door will be open for even more debuting faces. No one from the Nintendo family, mind you, but there’s nothing wrong with seeing a familiar face from the world of BattleBlock Theater, is there?
A Classic, Returning
While the nature of Castle Crashers remains unchanged from the past decade, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, we turn to classic beat-em-ups all the time, just for the sake of feeling the “good ol’ days” of gaming. Crashers easily falls into this category, delivering beat-em-up thrills that combine with vivid hand-drawn art and a funky soundtrack to make you feel right at home.
Though it’s too soon to tell how the Nintendo Switch version will pan out, that’s something we’re saving for the review, I am quite pleased with how it’s turned out thus far. Castle Crashers Remastered feels right at home on the Switch, whether you prefer to take your action with you during travel or want to get a few friends together for a few stages on the couch. Either way, you’re covered here.
Not only that, but Crashers’ abundant bonus content shouldn’t be missed. While the two side games are a bit strange, they’re a lot of fun as well. Additionally, the bonus goodies you can unlock, from the weapons to the characters to the bonus animal icons, really expand the game in a number of ways.
While some people have already conquered everything Castle Crashers has to offer, there are those who would feel pretty good about having it on the Switch. Count me in that group because there’s nothing wrong with another great beat-em-up making its home on Nintendo’s platform.
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