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The cute and charming violence of 'Battleblock Theater'

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The studio behind ‘Castle Crashers’ once again makes murder fun

Gallery Photo: 'Battleblock Theater' screenshots
Gallery Photo: 'Battleblock Theater' screenshots

Some games have something meaningful to say, but others are content with you battling sentient pieces of toast while riding a cube-shaped pig. The sheer ridiculousness of Battleblock Theater, the latest release from Castle Crashers developer The Behemoth, makes it worth a look, but the enormously fun side-scrolling gameplay is what makes it nearly impossible to put down. Though The Behemoth only releases games every few years (Battleblock Theater was first announced way back in February 2010), it's been worth the wait.

Battle sentient pieces of toast while riding a cube-shaped pig

Ever since the release of Alien Hominid (which started out as a browser game) The Behemoth has focused on three things: beautiful 2D visuals, cooperative gameplay, and over-the-top humor. Battleblock Theater ticks all of these boxes with an absurd sense of glee — it's a game where you're kidnapped by murderous cats and there's a character called Hatty Hattington. You'll unlock weapons ranging from simple boomerangs to kamikaze frogs, and you can customize your character with a gas mask or giant eyeball.

All of this sets the stage for a game that's frantic and fun. There are literally a few hundred levels to play through, and they're nearly all short, tight, and well designed. You can also play either solo or with a friend. Battleblock Theater constantly adds new, seemingly simple game elements like movable blocks, but it uses them in inventive ways that make it really feel like you're solving challenging puzzles while you play. But at its heart it's a platform game, and the jumping thankfully feels really good. Even with solid control of your character, you can expect to die frequently: Battleblock Theater is a game where death means little. A generous number of save points helps alleviate the frustration this could create, and sometimes it's also just fun to die — the animations when your character gets impaled on spikes or explodes into a mist of blood and bones are morbidly hilarious.

Possibly the most fun you'll have murdering cats

When you throw a few friends into the mix things get even more hectic, as it's pretty easy to kill your buddies by accident. Things just happen so fast. While this can be a pain in the cooperative story mode, there's thankfully an arena section that puts your more aggressive urges to good use. This competitive mode stacks you and your opponents against each other in a pretty wide range of activities — there's everything from a jetpack-fueled quest to capture as much territory as possible, to a Smash Bros.-esque fighting game. The satisfaction of a well-timed punch or a perfect slide that knocks a grenade back at your opponent is immense. The game is so fast that at times it feels like it's hard to be precise, so when you manage it, it just feels good. A level creation tool helps extend the game's live even further, as does the almost overwhelming number of unlockable characters.

Aside from a pair of largely forgettable iOS titles, Battleblock Theater is The Behemoth's first new game in nearly five years. "Being able to announce a release date for a game is something we don't really do that often," the studio wrote on its development blog last month. Clearly that time has been put to good use: the game is packed full of content and charm, making it more than worth the $15 asking price on Xbox Live Arcade. It could possibly be the most fun you'll have murdering cats.