maxresdefaultCastle Crashers was first released on the Xbox 360 back in 2008, and has since been ported to Playstation and PC. I picked up the PC version in a Steam sale some time ago, planning to play it in co-op mode, but I ended up playing it on my own. That’s not really how you’re supposed to play it, but my impression is that the online community is pretty slim now (no surprise after all this time!), so if you want to play it with others you probably need to rely on people you know getting it.

Castle Crashers is a side-scrolling 2.5D beat em up, where you control a sort of medieval knight on a journey to rescue some kidnapped princesses. Gameplay consists of bashing enemy soldiers and an array of weird fantasy creatures based on animals and toys as you make your way through a number of levels. Your knight gains access to an array of swords and a few other weapons, can learn combos, and can cast a couple of spells for variety. You gain experience for damaging enemies, and as you level up gain points you can use to improve your damage, speed, defense, and magic, giving the game a light role-playing element.

The game was generally quite well-received when it came out, with the graphics being particularly praised. The game has a cartoony look, but is still violent and has a kind of seedy and delibrately ugly style that is quite distinctive. Personally, I’m not a fan of the game’s graphics: I don’t think it’s an attractive game to look at, and I find the unsympathetic attitude to be a bit mean and cynical. More broadly, Castle Crashers tries to be funny, but I generally found the humour to be crass, crude, and just not very nice. The general spin on things is to take something that would normally be cute or innocent, and then twist it into a monster. I prefer the old beat em ups from my childhood in the 80s that featured tough guys and tough chicks beating up street punks. Something about cutting the head off evil teddy bears and seeing cartoon blood splash everywhere sits wrong with me.

The campaign is surprisingly long, featuring a host of levels spread across a world map and broken up by shops where you can buy consumable power ups, new weapons, and familiars–little floating animals that give you some kind of minor bonus. It might be well-balanced in multiplayer, but a single-player game can be quite challenging and you may find yourself having to grind for levels or currency to be able to buy items. This genre isn’t supposed to be easy, of course, but Castle Crashers can become quite grueling. Enemies have a quite surprising amount of health, meaning you have to whack them a fair number of times; you’ll also have to move and dodge pretty much the whole time, and the end result is a lot of button mashing. It can become rather trying.

Some reviewers hailed Castle Crashers as a classic beat em up, but in my view this is a largely forgettable game. If you manage to find some friends to play it with, enjoy button mashing, and if you dig the style of humour, you might have a lot of fun with this. But most people will be better served by tracking down some of the better versions of genuine classics like Streets of Rage, Final Fight, et al. They’re just way cooler, too.