Castle Crashers – “Empty Nostalgia”

castle_crashers

Video-game revivalism is in. Thanks to on-line download services, gamers now have access to all those childhood classics that they cherished, or missed out on. More so, smaller development companies have started to cash in on that retro-spirit, in hopes of reaching vast audiences with low-budget titles available in download services. A return to the past is usually welcome – going back to simpler game designs, sustained only by the intricate quality of its interactivity, instead of its next-gen graphics or physic engines. But not all retro-revivalism is welcome. Video-games have evolved in the last years. Surely not as much as some (me included) might have wanted, but they have, for all intents and purposes, evolved. “Castle Crashers'” developers (Dan Paladin and Tom Fulp) however, seem to take advantage of the lack of criticism surrounding retro-gaming, to produce simplistic games that when properly dissected, show how empty and retrograde their game-design philosophies really are.

castle_crashers

Simply put, there’s nothing new about “Castle Crashers”. It’s a bare knuckles “Golden Axe” clone without the dark fantasy ambiance, a mindless brawler without the polish and challenge arcade games excel at… it’s, well, utterly redundant and uninteresting. Nevermind the fact that the its authors seem to take pleasure in exposing the shallowness of their venture, through their crude humor and infantile, cartoonish aesthetic; the bottom line is that “Castle Crashers” is simply not that good of an action game. Not that it doesn’t have its fair share of well executed ideas – level design is sometimes inspired, and its RPG character levelling is simple, but effective – but nothing it does well actually deserves mentioning or praise. Of course, the answers to all my criticisms could be “co-op”, to which I’d reply, if you don’t take pleasure in playing a game solo, why would it make it better if you play it in the exact same way with someone? Co-op needs to be inserted in games with the purpose of allowing cooperative or competitive efforts. “Castle Crashers'” idea of cooperation is bashing enemies together.  Now, this can be entertaining, but it’s entertaining because you get to play with your friends. You should compliment your friends, not the game.

castle_crashers

Nothing about “Castle Crashers” is actually any good. If it were released a few years back, it would be seen as a quirky game, but little else. So many, many classic games have already done what “Castle Crashers” does well, but with much more creativity and care to detail, that it makes no sense to even look it as anything more than a glorified de-make.  Sure, its on-line features are a blessing, but today you have access to many of the classic games that inspired “Castle Crashers” available for download, sometimes even with online play. So why settle with the demeaning qualities of a copy, when you can get the superiority of the original, for a smaller price?

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  • Comments (15)
  1. Wow… I knew its wasnt just me! This game and Alien Hominid are dogs from the same mother and they both show the same qualities (good and bad). I really liked this review on the often overlooked downloadable games for consoles more of these would be a blessing.

    • ruicraveirinha
    • May 16th, 2009

    Thanks. I think I’ll just do that! Cheers!

  2. On a side note… You intentionally repeated the same picture 3 times? Because hidden meaning on things it’s so 90’s…

    • ruicraveirinha
    • May 17th, 2009

    Yeah, very 90’s indeed. I hear shutting down your brain is all the rage right now. 😉

  3. I still prefer Golden Axe, King of Monsters, Knights of the Round Table or Rastan (among others) to this sort of faux revivalism. If we want old-style games we can just as easily play them. If a new game is aiming for a pure experience it should at least be very cunning and intelligent, not just competent: and Castle Crashers isn’t witty.

    Very nice text indeed.

    • Wade
    • July 30th, 2009

    Well that was one of the most biased, ill-informed, holier-than-thou and downright bad reviews i’ve ever had the displeasure of reading. Obviously you have very little understanding of hack & slash games and… Oh what is that other thing that is found in alot of games…. (certainly not in any of the Myst/Riven titles, that’s for sure), oh yeah FUN!

    CC isn;t a perfect game, but it is far superior to it’s forefathers in gameplay mechanics, story, style and overall playability. You mention Golden Axe as a sort of master of the genre, when in-fact it was far more 1 dimensional than other greats of hack & slash; Streets of Rage (and all it’s sequels) is a much stronger representation of the genre, with multiple weapon pick-ups, a variety of combos, interesting boss varieties and great enviroments.

    CC has combo variety, multiple weapon pick-ups, ranged weapons, each character has their own magic powers, three varieties in-fact, dozens of alt characters, lots of hidden extras and it still boasts a far more entertaining story than any of the old style games. Who seemed to take their stories from very average 80’s action movies.

    Next time you try and review a title that isn’t in your little niche of favoured games, try unclenching; ease your head out from between your arse cheeks and review a game for it’s intended purpose and it’s own merits.

    • ruicraveirinha
    • July 30th, 2009

    If anyone needs unclenching his ass is you my friend.

    I love your justification of why Castle Crashers is good – “combo variety, multiple weapon pick-ups, ranged weapons, […] magic powers, […], dozens of alt characters, lots of hidden extras and it still boasts a far more entertaining story than any of the old style games.” – it shows how well you understand what makes a game fun and entertaining. What games need to be better is more combos, attacks, special skills, characters, weapons and items. Once we get thousands of these in a game it will be perfect!!!

    To even compare “Castle Crashers” to games like “Golden Axe” and “Streets of Rage” would be ridiculous, to say it is superior is heresy. These are games that represent the epitome of arcade play back in the day: vibrant and noisy, extremely balanced in terms of game-play and level design, with pitch perfect animations, great soundtracks, and a brand of humor that despite not being that good, is still less crude than Castle Crashers’.

    Most of all, we’re talking about games that were challenging video-games’ boundaries in their time, whilst CC is just backwards thinking. A game that, almost twenty years after those games came out, adds nothing substantial or innovative to the experience, and still manages to be much inferior on an aesthetic level and in terms of game-play balancing and design.

    I like fun games, but I like good “fun” games. “Castle Crashers” is just too mediocre to be any good. Go play more “Streets of Rage” and “Golden Axe”, and perhaps you’ll someday understand the difference.

    P.S. Mentioning “story” in a game like “Castle Crashers” is something that will make me smile for the rest of my life. The Shakespearean dialogues, the epic plot, the deep characters and sub-text!!! Oh wait, “Castle Crashers” has none of that 😀 It has cute animals and poop. Hooray!!! (Not that it needed story, but since you mentioned it…)

    • Wade
    • July 31st, 2009

    Man i thought all you pompous VG snobs went back to sneering at movies?

    Anyway to reply;

    Let’s start with a quote.
    “– it shows how well you understand what makes a game fun and entertaining. What games need to be better is more combos, attacks, special skills, characters, weapons and items. Once we get thousands of these in a game it will be perfect!!!”

    Poor fellow, you’ve lost the context of my comment, let me help; For a hack & slash game (AKA brawler side scrolling beat ’em up) revolve around ways in which one can hack &/or slash! SO by using this path of deduction more combos, weapon varieties, different attacks melee/ranged/magic are important, nay, pivotal to games in the hack & slash (or brawler) genre.

    CC is easily compared to Streets of Rage & Golden Axe as both are in the same arena and, as much as your nostalgia may blur your vision, they both had their issues. Mostly with sticky controls, repetitive enemy behaviour, lack of variety after the 3rd level of the game, very plain character design, overall a much more basic affair.
    Once again, this is solely about these games within their genre.
    Also they weren’t nearly the boundary breakers of their time, there were plenty of other brawler type scrollers that were doing the same thing. (Final Fight, Bad Dudes, Countless games based around Ninjas, TMNT, X-Men) not that the aforementioned games aren’t good games, just not “boundary challenging” games.

    CC on the other hand has levelling up along with new combos being given to you as you progress, a speed/power/magic/defence RPG system with weapons and bonuses (animal orbs) that create a layer of strategy to proceedings. A large variety of enemies, locations, sound fx, visual comedy, all presented in a unique, bright but gory animated style. May not be your cup of tea, but you can’t deny it is crafted with care and skill.
    Plus all these additions may not be new to gaming in general but the implementation is a well executed step forward for the genre that it has based itself in

    I am not denying that Golden Axe, Streets of Rage, Final Fight, etc, were all fine for their time, some were great even. I wasted months playing SoR2 (the best of the series in my opinion). Though i disagree with the reviewer stating that CC has not added anything on top of what those early 90’s games were doing, if he can’t see that by playing through the game he is either blinded by his own opinion or he doesn’t know what he is looking for in the genre.

    CC isn’t perfect, it isn’t the messiah of gaming. It’s not pioneering any new genre. However, it is a very solid hack & slash with a good mix of RPG, action, humour and gore. If you can’t review a title within it’s design your review is a waste of text.

    RE: P.S. I mentioned story because it is a comical spin on the kinda lame story in fantasy comics/books, while there is juvenile dick ‘n fart type jokes in there it doesn’t take away from the overall gag, that is, poking fun at the fantasy/action story cliches.

    • Andrew
    • October 22nd, 2009

    I loved this game. I won’t bother dissecting the reasons why, suffice it to say that my daughters (4 & 7) and I had a blast playing through Castle Crashers. To say that “Nothing about “Castle Crashers” is actually any good” is ridiculously harsh. I had more fun with this title than most of the games for which I coughed up $60.

    • ruicraveirinha
    • October 25th, 2009

    This is a mistake people keep making when they read my articles: I am not attempting to determine, in any way whether games are “fun” or entertaining, or if they make for a good buy or not for you and your kids. Many other websites and magazines already do that. The context in which I dissect any game in this blog is totally different: I am aiming to do a critical analysis of videogames in an artistic context, not a commercial one. Don’t you think I know people have fun with CC? I know they do, in the same way that people have fun when they play ping-pong, see a football match or watch an episode of “Friends”. But just because people have fun, that does not mean that any of these activities have cultural or artistic relevance. When I say “there is nothing good” I am assuming a certain point of view – agree or disagree with it – and in that context, there is nothing harsh about my opinion. Or would you contest the notion that there is nothing relevant, from an artistic point of view in Castle Crashers?

    Thanks for the comment.

    • Knight
    • January 1st, 2010

    Castle Crashers is amazing, and it is exponentially greater than Golden Axe or any game similar to Golden Axe that I have ever played. Also, Wade is brilliant, and ruicraveirinha can’t even talk

    • Dude
    • January 7th, 2010

    Really?! Really?! That was the worst review of the game I have ever read. Castle crashers is fun simply because its crude and childish. Its a video game for crying out loud! Not some kind of novel! Get your head out of your a**! Not every game needs to add something to gaming, sometimes games that go back or more better in their own way than those games who started out the genre or game-play-style. I have to say I’m with Wade and Knight.

    • Willmuska
    • February 6th, 2010

    I was seriously surprised at your review. “To even compare “Castle Crashers” to games like “Golden Axe” and “Streets of Rage” would be ridiculous, to say it is superior is heresy.” What? They’re the same genre, so why not compare them? And Castle Crashers is just like Golden Axe, and in my opinion, slightly superior. It has a nice RPG style leveling up system, unique animal orb system, countless weapons and characters, etc. It’s a awesome party game, and going through campaign with your pals will be one of your best experiences. Wait, you’re a solo player? That’s too bad, because solo is just as awesome. Seriously, CC is not perfect, but it does provide a awesome experience.

    • ruicraveirinha
    • February 7th, 2010

    “Golden Axe” and “Streets of Rage” are more than a few years old. Despite that, even today they are tightly balanced, aesthetically pleasing, and unique in many ways. “Crashers”, even today, is nothing special. As dieubussy said: its competent, sure, but it lacks originality (the game design model that supports it is somewhat old now), a captivating aesthetic (unless you want to call its poop humor aesthetic enticing), it’s not particularly deep (how many strategies do you need to finish the game?) and it doesn’t have any really new ideas that compensate its shortcomings.

    The rpg, orb system, weapons and items, are not exactly groundbreaking ideas. Games in the genre have had them for many years, and with much better results. There are many collectibles and movements in the game, but they never move the experience beyond the tried and true formula of bashing enemies in the face. Do these mechanisms make the game fun? Yeah. More fun than so many games that came before it… I don’t think so.

    When you play a party game, whether face-to-face with your friends or via online systems, much of the enjoyment comes from the social interactions you have with those people. You laugh hard, you get more competitive, aggressive, camaraderie may surface for team-mates, etc. But these emotions have little to do with how the game was created, you should thank your friends, not the game designers for that enjoyment. Try to name one original co-op feature in “Castle Crashers”… there is none! You can attack enemies in tandem and you get to play deathmatch in the end of each level, and that’s it. Where is the co-op game design?

    Cheers.

  4. Yea ruicraveirinha you’re right, from the few minutes of Castle Crashers i played i picked up right away where they were trying to copy Golden Axe, hence my google search for someone who picked up the similar reference. As for the gameplay, i’ve played the first level of Golden Axe many times, and i can say that the pacing is much better, and having a dash button speeds up the gameplay nicely. Along with this, as you said, the small touches, detailed environments, sound effects and enemy variety (like the 2 big hammer guys and the rideable beasts) are just fantastic and beat even Double Dragon and Streets of Rage for intro level gameplay. Sorry that so many people have slated you here, its terrible i wish people would start learning about game history chronologically and not the other way around.

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