by Josh Vollmer

Battleblock Theater is the latest game from indie developer The Behemoth, creators of Alien Hominid, and one of the all time best selling Xbox Live Arcade games, Castle Crashers. While the studio has retained its hand drawn graphical style and, uh . . . uniquely crude . .  . sense of humor, The Behemoth chose to eschew the hack and slash gameplay that made Castle Crashers such a hit, in favor of a pure platformer approach.

The game begins by telling the story of a ship full of friends, a friendship if you will, lead by head friend Hatty Hatty. One evening the friendship is caught in a whale of a storm and Hatty and all his friends crash on an island. Soon after, Hatty is kidnapped and forced to wear a hat. Not just any hat, mind you, this one makes Hatty all evil and weird, forcing him to turn against his friends, including you. Before you know it, you find yourself in a “gladiatorial prisony place with (a) perilous medley of twisted stage productions that shred the silky fabric which weaves together the fragile blanket of sanity that keeps us sane.” A gladiatorial prisony place which also just happens to have theater seating. And where you’re forced to run a deadly and seemingly endless gauntlet of traps. All for the entertainment of sentient cats.

Well, at least smarter than average cats to be sure. I mean they have spike traps and tank turrets. Robots with rocket launchers, and lasers. Sometimes they toss some of the older kittens in there to fight you too, and those cats come armed with everything from hand grenades and exploding frogs to boomerangs and vacuum cleaners to keep you from your goal. Which, by the way, is to find at least three gems in a stage which will unlock the exit, allowing you to escape. Also keep an eye out for balls of yarn that you can cash in with the guards for new weapons. Along the way you’ll make use of suction cup guns and jetpacks, springboards and floating platforms . . . with eyes and mouths. And just in case you’re thinking “Oh well, you get jetpacks, that doesn’t sound so bad,” some of the levels are timed, adding an extra level of stress as you strive for the goal.

With over 100 stages across eight levels, several secret areas, two game modes (normal and insane), and an equal number of very similar, but slightly more teamwork-oriented two player co-op stages that are playable with a friend online, or in good old fashioned couch co-op style, Battleblock Theater has enough content to keep you busy for quite some time, and is well worth the approximately $15 price point. If that weren’t enough though, there’s also a level editor included, allowing you to create your own diabolical deathtrap filled dungeons to escape, and then sharing them online, where there is already a veritable smorgasbord of user created content up for you to explore, play and rate until your heart’s content. There is also a ton of customization unlockables to collect in the form of other prisoners friends you can play as, while gem collecting your way to freedom, and you can trade these with your friends online in an effort to complete your set.

 Battleblock Theater is currently only available on Xbox Live Arcade, and is one of the better downloadable releases of the past several weeks. It’s hours of fun, but you don’t have to take my word for it. Like most Live Arcade games there is a free demo available, so download that sucker and give it a whirl. If you like what you see, then come into Slackers and pick up an Xbox Live Points card and use it to unlock the full game. Or just save time and do that first, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Recommended if you like platformers, cats, and designing elaborate deathtraps.