May 29, 2021
When life’s got you down, just think: you could be a prisoner stranded on an island, forced to risk life and limb in a sadistic stage show put on to entertain a bunch of overgrown cats. Such a bizarre state of affairs is the actual premise of BattleBlock Theater, the 2D platformer from indie powerhouse The Behemoth that’s mechanically gratifying and delightfully weird in equal measure. And by golly, it’s the perfect pick-me-up when you’re in the mood for some absolute, unbridled silliness.
Now, despite the outlandish scenario, the gameplay itself is lovingly familiar. All you have to do is run and jump around levels constructed from various types of blocks, collecting enough green gems to activate the exit. The controls are pleasantly tight, and the ability to double-jump, climb up pipes, and push objects right from the get-go makes moving through the levels a cinch. At least, at first; eventually you’ll have to figure out how to bypass hostile cats, giant laser beams, labyrinths of spiked surfaces, and frightening antlered creatures known as Raccalopes. You will most definitely die trying, but fear not: lives are infinite, and checkpoints are plentiful (unless you’ve got what it takes to play on Insane difficulty).
BattleBlock Theater’s become something of a virtual nicotine patch for me: I’m craving the chance to play more of Pit People, the upcoming strategy game from The Behemoth. And though the gameplay in that forthcoming game is a far cry from the simplistic sidescrolling in BattleBlock Theater, the glorious presentation is in much the same vein: Dan Paladin’s adorably chunky art style, mixed with the incomparable narration of Will Stamper. In each of BattleBlock’s frantically acted-out cutscenes, Stamper’s singsong voice gives life to the absurd story, but his best moments are all the quips …