Long ago, during the ancient times of the early 2000s, the cesspool that was the online Flash game community acted as something of a precursor to what would go on to become the modern indie gaming scene. A site called Newgrounds soon rose to prominence as the go-to place for quality Flash games, and one of the most popular titles to arrive in that community was a cute run ‘n’ gunner called Alien Hominid. The title generated so much traffic that the developers were offered a shot at making an expanded version for consoles, which resulted in them forming an official development studio called The Behemoth.
Once Alien Hominid (and its HD re-release) was finished for consoles, the developers then turned their attention to making a new game called Ye Olde Side-Scroller, which was shown off to the world as a GameCube title, of all things. A couple of years later, it was released for the Xbox 360 as Castle Crashers and enjoyed fantastic success in both sales and critical response. Now, the seminal beat ‘em up has finally returned to its initial home on Nintendo platforms as Castle Crashers Remastered, featuring heightened textures, better performance, and some extra content. As far as we’re concerned, this is the finest version of the game yet available, and though its humble roots in the Flash game scene are rather evident, Castle Crashers Remastered is a massively enjoyable experience that really benefits from the multiplayer features of the Switch.
Castle Crashers Remastered features perhaps one of the most cookie-cutter plots imaginable, but given the genre, this is only to be expected. Your knight(s) are enjoying themselves at a castle when an evil wizard arrives, steals a magical gem from the king, and runs off with his four daughters. Your journey to reclaim the stolen valuables will take you across land and sea and through hordes of rabid animals, barbarians, aliens, pirates, and just about every kind of fiend you can imagine. Any failings in storytelling are quickly brushed aside by the solid gameplay and irreverent tone, although it must be said that the humour often tends to fall into gratingly juvenile territory. For example, there’s a running gag of a deer literally being rocketed along by liquid diarrhoea spewing from its rear, and while it’s mildly amusing to begin with, it’s reused far too often. We generally appreciated the presence of humour throughout the Castle Crashers Remastered campaign, but just bear in mind that many of the jokes and scenes may as well have been dreamt up by a twelve-year-old.
The bread and butter of Castle Crashers Remastered is its simple beat ‘em up gameplay, which proves to be as easy to pick up as it is enjoyable to play. Anyone who’s played an arcade brawler will feel right at home here, as combat ultimately boils down to mashing two attack buttons a million times as you slash and kick your way through scores of papery foes. Your two primary means of offense will be your light and heavy attacks, mapped to the “Y” and “X” buttons, respectively, which can be chained together in a number of ways to pull off some bombastic combos. To supplement these attacks and to throw in some variety, you also have a few magic attacks on tap, along with auxiliary items like a bow or some bombs. Although the magic is rather nice in how it can offer an elemental effect – such as poisoning the enemy or freezing them in their tracks – the items feel relatively useless by comparison.
It’s a relatively basic combat setup, which proves to be both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, there’s a certain degree of satisfaction to be found in the responsiveness of the controls and the overall pace of combat. Mashing away at buttons and watching your character tear through a screen full of enemies just feels right, aided in no small part by the well-drawn animations that really sell every blow. Plus, this combat is quite easily picked up by newcomers and first-time players, and given the portable nature of the Switch, this makes Castle Crashers Remastered an easy go-to choice for a quick round of on the go multiplayer.
On the other hand, the simple combat begins to show its cracks relatively early on as you begin encountering more and more damage-sponge enemies. Even basic mobs begin to exhibit this after not too long, but many of the bosses are especially egregious in just how much punishment they can take before they finally go down. There’s a fine line between organic and artificial challenge, a line which is definitely crossed here as you painstakingly chip away at another big bad’s enormous health pool. The issue is made worse by how many bosses only have set windows in which they can be hurt, creating a long and boring loop where you get in a few hits, dodge the same attacks you’ve been dodging the whole time, and then get in a couple more hits. After a while, the repetition can become tiresome, making extended play sessions increasingly laborious.
Luckily, there’s plenty of interesting replay value to be found in this package, for those that don’t mind a bit of grinding. After landing enough blows on your enemies, your knight will level up, granting them access to more magic spells, extra combo attacks, and a skill point that can be freely distributed between four core stats to bolster your overall combat effectiveness. Levels are doled out at a near-flawless rate, delivering you something new or interesting to play around with every several minutes. Testing out different builds can lead to some challenging runs that encourage different playstyles, and this emphasis on repeated runs is almost encouraged by the relatively short (around five hours) overall runtime of the main campaign.
At any point, of course, you can also choose to play as one of the many other knights or unlockable characters, each of which sport unique movesets or magic attacks to change up the way you play. These can each be bolstered further, too, by a sizable array of equippable melee weapons and Animal Orbs (passive-giving animal companions) which can help to create more specialized builds. Though the core combat mechanics can prove to be repetitive over extended play, never let it be said that Castle Crashers Remastered doesn’t give you plenty of options in how you can approach playing it.
As a beat ‘em up release, multiplayer is obviously a central element of Castle Crashers Remastered and we’re happy to report that it’s a lovely experience whether you’re playing with allies near or far. Up to four players can be involved at once and there’s even support for single Joy-Con play, which effectively removes any barriers in the way of an easily set up multiplayer game with friends. On the whole, Castle Crashers Remastered is more enjoyable when you have some friends on hand, as the action on screen becomes more manic, but in the good way as you divide your time between slashing ninjas and administering CPR to any fallen comrades to get them back into the fight.
Enemy health scales up with the number of players, unfortunately solidifying the damage-sponge issue, but it’s less noticeable when you’re taking down foes with a team at your back and are more focused on the collective experience. You’ll be pleased to know that playing online is just about as smooth as playing local, too, and while you’re losing out on the social aspect of having friends on the couch beside you, it’s still a sound solution to the boredom or loneliness that single player play may bring on.
As for presentation, Castle Crashers Remastered employs a unique, hand-drawn look that noticeably benefits from the HD facelift. The bold lines, bright colors, exaggerated animations, and doodle-like characters all evoke a sense of the non-stop action jumping off a notebook page and onto the screen and it’s an utter delight to behold in glorious 60FPS across the board. We feel that the focus on set pieces also bear a shout out, as many of the boss battles take things a step beyond a typical encounter and imbue the fight with some element of a chase. Case in point, an early fight sees you escaping from a gigantic black cat clawing its way toward you, as you flee on the back of a frightened deer and dodge obstacles in the way. These set piece scenes are used sparingly, but to great effect each time, making for many over-the-top fights that elevate the action to something much more memorable.
As far as beat ‘em up brawlers go on the Switch, Castle Crashers Remastered is one of the finest titles available for the platform. Tight controls, many multiplayer modes, a great art direction and a wealth of replayable content make this an easy “ol’ reliable” game that you’ll surely be revisiting with friends for years to come. All the same, it’s also far from a perfect experience, as the repetitive nature of combat and the reliance on damage-sponges to pad out the runtime make for a title that can tend to overstay its welcome in extended sessions. Still, for a relatively cheap price at the time of writing, it’s pretty tough to argue against the raw value proposition being made here between the amount of content and overall fun factor; if you’re looking for another great co-op game to add to your Switch library, look no further.