A blast from the past that’s dated, but still a joy.
Castle Crashers is an old favorite of mine from the early era of downloadable games. The first video game I ever bought digitally, it’s a 2D co-op beat ‘em up starring four colorful knights fighting their way through a world straight out of the Flash-animated Newgrounds library - literally, as designers Dan Paladin and Tom Fulp both got their start on the classic multimedia site. The hand-drawn animation that gave Newgrounds its identity in the mid-2000s is all over this game, and its simple art style still looks good to this day. With the remastered edition making its way to Switch, Nintendo fans can finally get their hands on this classic piece of indie history.
The gameplay in Castle Crashers is extremely simple. Waves of enemies will approach you (and your friends if you’re playing co-op), ready to be mowed down by your superior might. Over the course of your adventure, you’ll collect an arsenal of different weapons and a zoo’s worth of animal pets to aid you in battle. The cast of seven playable characters (which can be expanded to over 30 via unlocks) are more or less identical with the exception of their magic abilities. Your moveset starts out extremely simple at the beginning of the game but eventually opens up to more varied and interesting movelists as you gain experience and level up your characters. The remastered edition has made the jump to Switch completely intact with absolutely no compromises.
The campaign is broken up into a number of different story setpieces, but those areas are split up further into smaller levels that allow for frequent checkpoints so that you can save your progress or double back to change up your inventory. Overall Castle Crashers is best played as a party game where you make small bits of progress every now and then. The levels are aesthetically varied and have constant humor throughout, but the gameplay can get repetitive pretty quickly.
For the first time ever I decided to try playing the game solo, trekking through levels without the company of friends. I was disappointed to find that the game is a lot less interesting this way, as the repetitive challenges wear thin when you have to do them all by yourself, and the humor doesn’t land as well without the added snark and commentary of your companions to keep the laughs going. There’s also a problem I’ve had since I first played the game a decade ago that is all the more frustrating without other players to add to your damage output: it’s frustratingly difficult to tell whether you’re on the same vertical plane as an enemy, causing your weapons and spells to miss when you appear to be right up against your opponent.
This time around I also noticed how hard the game’s difficulty can hit if you don’t balance your stats appropriately after gaining experience. In the past I’d try to keep a relatively balanced character, but I decided this time to dump all my upgrade points into magic since that’s the only stat that gives you new moves. I figured having more abilities to play around with would make the game more fun, but instead it left me woefully underpowered up to a certain point in the campaign. This was admittedly my own fault, but since there’s no option to respec my character’s abilities the only thing I was able to do from there was to replay levels I’d already finished to grind upgrade points to increase my stats to a point where I could keep up. It’s fair that I wouldn’t be able to take on the world with a squishy mage, but it would’ve been nice to be able to correct my mistake rather than waste time grinding.
Despite the game starting to feel a little shallow over ten years later, Castle Crashers is still an absolute riot when played with friends. I can’t recommend it as a solo experience, meaning its appeal on a hybrid console like the Switch may be a little limited. I can however highly recommend it for sitting down and having a good time with a group of friends. If you’ve got other game consoles then you can probably already play this game at its best, but it’s always a good time to jump in and have fun crashing through some castles.