Having to review "Castle Crashers" breaks my heart. Not because of the game's poor quality or even having to spend precious time writing about it rather than playing it, but because I have the unfortunate duty of advising you not to buy one of my favorite games of the past 12 months.
The creators of "Castle Crashers" clearly drew inspiration from fond memories of arcade classics like "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" and "X-Men." With game console Internet penetration being higher than ever, taking the experience online would elevate the fun factor to new heights.
The story is clichéd (princesses need rescuing, evil guys need defeating, honor needs defending... you know the deal), but for the purpose of self-parody. The plot is there for you to laugh at, not to pay attention to or analyze. Just fight the polar bears, barbarians, skeletons, beekeepers and aliens. Oh, and pirates that are also ninjas.
Whatever the hell is going on, it sure is cool to watch. Dan Paladin's art style (that hand-drawn "messy, but in a good way" look) has never looked better, and little touches of subtle humor make watching "Castle Crashers" nearly as much fun as playing it.
The four default selectable characters have clearly distinguishable colors and abilities: green knight with poison magic, red knight with lightning, blue knight with ice and a fire-starting orange knight. You'll inevitably settle on a favorite and end up fighting for the right to use him in four-player games.
Boss fights are plentiful and appropriately challenging. That is, they'll probably kick your ass once or twice before you finally take them down. Having three wingmen, though, brings their difficulty down from hair-pulling and controller-tossing levels.
Few games of this sort evoke sensations of addiction and obsession over its unlockables quite like this one. With entirely new characters to play with, more than 60 weapons with unique attributes to find and animal orbs (tiny creatures that follow you around and aid you in various ways) to weed out of their hiding spots, beating the final boss likely won't be the end of your time with "Castle Crashers."
Now for the bad news. For a game built around having four players to get the full experience, attempting to play "Castle Crashers" online with others creates nothing but wasted time and hopeless frustration. At the time of this writing, even the most stable and open connections have trouble.
What crosses the line, however, is that online play arbitrarily erases your saved data. Few things in life hurt more than watching all of your weapons, your animals and your level-42 red knight vanish into the ether through no fault of your own. And if the vocal Internet community is to be believed, this issue is far from uncommon.
The game is also just buggy in general, with enemies going invincible to prevent access to the next area, bosses being exploited for cheap and easy experience points and the entire game freezing and crashing at random intervals. The Behemoth's response to all of these issues? "We're working on it."
Most of these glitches are isolated to online play, so anyone with three local friends and four 360 controllers should not hesitate to download what is one of the most purely enjoyable titles on Xbox Live Arcade. However, because playing solo is boring and monotonous and the network code is in disarray, I simply can't recommend "Castle Crashers" to anyone else in its current state. For now, we can only cross our fingers and hope that the online mode will become playable sooner rather than later.