It's hard to believe that Castle Crashers is more than a decade old. It was a novel experience when it was first released on Xbox 360 back in 2008—a 2D beat 'em up in an era in which arcade beat 'em ups were supposedly long dead. It was the leading edge of nouveau retro games that comprised the first wave of console indies.
A remastered version was released on Xbox One back in 2015, but this summer will mark its first appearance on Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4. My hands-on with the Switch version was the first time in several years that I had picked it up, and I was struck by how it teleported me back to that very specific period in time. It was a period in which bringing back 8-bit concepts still felt fresh and new, and $20 downloadable games felt a little bit ludicrous.
Remember when there was a controversy about digital games coming out for $20 and The Behemoth had to come out and say pricing hadn't been decided yet? pic.twitter.com/6GAhnzpaNP— Imran Khan (@imranzomg) March 28, 2019
With HD televisions still being extremely new, Castle Crasher's 2D graphics felt revelatory. It was a type of game that we hadn't seen in ages on console, but with a fresh face. In the years to come, its general look would be copied and updated and endlessly. Behemoth's look remained distinct, but its fallen out of fashion in favor of the pixelated style of games like Shovel Knight and The Messenger, which are intended to hearken back to the days of the SNES.
These days, Castle Crashers' characters look like stiffly animated cartoon cutouts. While hardly ugly, it no longer stands out after a decade of retro games released in high-definition. Thankfully, Castle Crashers has other virtues. Its characters are still bursting with personality, particularly the four knights, who manage to pack a large range of emotions and motivations into their simple expressions. The enemies run the gamut from tiny grunts to massive, highly-detailed monsters. With texture sizes that are five times that of the original, it has a sharp, hand-drawn quality that works despite the simple geometry.
As you might expect, it looks very nice in handheld mode on Nintendo Switch. As a 2D co-op platformer, it's obviously a great fit for the system, supporting both online and local multiplayer. It has the potential to join Diablo, Super Smash Bros., and Mario Kart as yet another party game staple on Nintendo Switch.
In an amusing turn, it RPG lite mechanics, in which coins can be spent in shops on items and equipment, feel distinctly modern in this day and age. Where it was originally intended to pay tribute to River City Ransom, it now shares these elements with... well... basically every blockbuster ever. The Behemoth seems to have been ahead of the curve on that one.
Looking back, Castle Crashers was an important step down the road toward "blockbuster indies." It took the polish and presentation of the nascent sub-genre up a notch, raising the bar for the developers to follow. It exemplified Microsoft's dominance in an era where almost every indie went to Xbox 360 first. Castle Crashers didn't even make it to PS3 until 2010.
I tragically never got to spend as much time as I wanted with Castle Crashers when it was big on Xbox 360. I never had enough friends to play with. But with three Nintendo Switches in my household, now might be the time to rectify my oversight. And in so doing, I will be able to take a step back into what is fast becoming gaming's distant past.
Castle Crashers Remastered will be out on Switch and PS4 this summer.
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