Castle Crashers for PC is a textbook example of literally everything you could do wrong when making a PC port of a console game. A friend of mine recently picked up a 4-pack during the steam Big Picture Sale, and as I quite enjoyed the original on Xbox when it came out, I thought the PC version at less than $5 a pop would be worth it. Boy was I wrong.
Let’s start with the release date. Castle Crashers for PC came out this year, 2012. It was first out on the Xbox in 2008, four years ago. That’s such a shockingly huge gap, it’s insane. Everyone that wanted to play this game has already played it, leaving the only audience PC-exclusive gamers who want to see what all the fuss is about, or opportunists like myself picking it up during a sale. I could excuse the lengthy delay if it was literally the most polished PC port I had ever played, but unfortunately this is far, far from the truth.
The first thing the game does when you load it up is recommend you play it with an Xbox 360 controller. This is fine. A lot of games are easier to play on a controller, especially beat-em-ups like this. Encouraging controller use is not a bad idea. What IS a bad idea though, is discouraging keyboard use. If you own an Xbox 360 controller, chances are you also own an Xbox 360, which means you played this game over four years ago, so what the hell are you doing playing it again on the PC? You see the conundrum here? A large majority of PC gamers won’t have an Xbox 360 controller just lying around. It’s cool if you do, but if you don’t, the game actively gimps you.
First, none of the in-game prompts change if you are using a keyboard. This means that, for example, when you learn a new combo, the popup will say ‘Press A, A, X for a combo!’ even if you have rebound these keys to different buttons. It pretty much means every time you learn a new combo, you have to open up your menu, check your keybindings and then compare them to the Xbox 360 controller layout. The first hour or so of our game was incredibly frustrating, as we struggled to work out what button did what.
On top of this, while it didn’t happen to me personally, two of the three friends that I played with complained that the game would randomly rebind their keys. I’m not sure if it’s a driver issue or whatever, but it really should not have happened at all. If you think that 2/4 ratio is bad, 3/4 of us had some kind of connectivity issue at some point while playing, be it a dropped connection, crashed game, inability to join a game lobby or unexplainable lag.
The lobby system for online play is completely uninspired, using an almost carbon copy of the Xbox version’s online mode, requiring all players to join a central host, ready up, and choose their character before starting the game. There is no way for players to jump into a game that’s already in progress. If you are playing and a friend wants to join, or if someone from your party loses his connection, you have to quit the game and start over. We found this system had multiple bugs, and it would often kick people for no reason or simply refuse to start the game.
When we were able to actually get into a game, I was shocked to find that bugs that were prevalent in the original game were still here in this port, four years later. We got stuck on terrain, were attacked by invisible enemies, and even managed to defeat a boss using a glitch. There were also a handful of annoyances that were particularly annoying because they have such a basic fix. Two examples include: UI elements not overlapping properly, making it difficult to see stats for items at stores, and players having to ‘take turns’ to upgrade their character at the end of a level, despite playing the game online on separate computers.
Ok, now that I’ve gotten the numerous technical issues with the game out of the way, let’s have a look at how it actually plays, shall we? Castle Crashers for Xbox Live was a huge breakout game for The Behemoth. It was very successful, bringing the spirit of old school beat-em-ups to the Xbox live arcade at an affordable price point. It wasn’t perfect and it had its issues, but it was a case of right-place right-time that really paid off for the company.
Naturally, after all this time, I had naively assumed that The Behemoth would take the chance with this PC version to at least attempt to fix the problems with the original Castle Crashers game. Sadly, it looks like a last-ditch-effort to squeeze a few more bucks out of the cash cow that put them where they are today.
Almost nothing is changed from the original Castle Crashers game – good and bad. The horizontal planes are still excruciatingly unforgiving, requiring you to be on the EXACT same level as an enemy to hit them, which is particularly frustrating as they always seem to be able to hit YOU. There’s still no option to skip cutscenes. You’ll still have to replay levels occasionally when a boss is brickwalling you.
Prefer to play the game alone or with a group? Don’t worry; the game will punish you either way. If you play the game solo, the scaling is terribly unforgiving. While there may be slightly less enemies with slightly less HP, it’s not really enough to justify a solo player (especially when you can’t have a buddy resurrect you). But if you prefer to play in a group, the game punishes you by filling the screen up with dozens of sprites at once. In some levels, if you are all casting spells, it can be literally impossible to see what your character is doing.
I suppose I should at least spend one paragraph talking about the game’s good points. When it does all pull together, and you have a full party of four, and you can look past the game’s many flaws, it is quite fun to play. Just like the Xbox version, the leveling system along with the unlockable characters and collectable weapons/animal companions means that you’ll want to keep coming back for more. Smashing your way through hordes of enemies with your buddies feels really good. The game’s controls and combo system, despite being awkwardly mapped to keyboard controls, feel very solid.
But, in the end, it’s just not enough. Honestly, I can’t really recommend this game to anyone. Its fun beat-em-up gameplay just isn’t worth fighting through all the flaws, bugs and glitches. It’s such a shame to see such wasted potential – this game could have been one of the forerunners of Steam’s new Big Picture Mode, but instead, it’s just another crappy console port.