Death. Betrayal. Revenge. These motifs are commonplace amongst some of theater’s most classic masterpieces. They’re also no stranger to some of the more narrative-driven video games on the market. However, there’s only one theater that organically puts these elements into the audience’s hands; tempts, taunts, and prods the theatergoers to introduce these seemingly heavy themes to the experience; and is able to ultimately come off as more light-hearted as a result. That theater: BattleBlock Theater.
BattleBlock Theater is the Behemoth’s upcoming console follow-up to the universally well-received Castle Crashers. It’s centered around a shipwrecked crew that’s captured by the island’s inhabitants and forced to perform deadly theatrical acts for the locals’ entertainment. This concept literally and figuratively sets the stage for the chaos to come.
Each level in BattleBlock Theater is a fresh set of challenges and obstacles standing between your team, a number of gems, and ultimately, the exit. The levels are designed in such a way that they place equal parts emphasis on skill-based platforming and lateral-thinking puzzle-solving. Players are graded based on how many gems are collected, not on how many deaths occur. This is fortunate because you will die. A lot.
BattleBlock Theater throws a metric ton of traps and hazards at you and your partner at seemingly every turn. However, there’s a high possibility that the majority of your deaths will come at the hands of the one meant to help you navigate these treacherous corridors – your cooperative partner. Likewise, there’s about an equal chance that you’ll reciprocate, much to your satisfaction and your other’s fleeting sense of frustration.
The reason for this pattern of wildly unproductive griefing is because BattleBlock Theater practically beckons you to do so. While conventional rationale would lead one to want to act as a cohesive unit at all times, it’s too damn easy to hurl your partner into a spiked wall as they pass, or hop off of a pressure plate nano-seconds before they advance to the next part of the level. Still, it won’t be long before you’re a fully-functioning duo again in pursuit of that next gem. That is, until it’s collected, at which point, sabotage is again inevitable and probably immediate.
It’s to BattleBlock Theater’s credit that it’s able to work so well while simultaneously focusing on opposite ends of the spectrum. Given some first-hand exposure to the personality of the game, it’s evident that the Behemoth wants you to play it both ways; it’s just that only one of those approaches will actually lead to accomplishing something. The other will just spur some good-natured bad blood between you and a friend.