At last fall's Penny Arcade Expo, the first game that attendees caught on their way onto the show floor was the cartoonish brawler Castle Crashers, advertised with its titular colored knights frowning from the booth. And the team at The Behemoth, led by programmer Tom Fulp and artist Dan Paladin, play well with the Penny Arcade crowd, thanks to their appealing character design, retro side-scrolling action, light toilet humor, and ramshackle "anything goes" aesthetic—where knights on a medieval adventure can wind up playing volleyball in Arabia, or mowing down aliens on a UFO.
Castle Crashers is amusing, but limited. The campaign rambles through predictable environments—here's the lava world, there's the ice—taking tangents, like the UFO, that feel indulgently random. With only a handful of combos and enemies who are remarkably similar except for their sprites and their endurance, the fights don't offer much variety, and the boss fights demand more patience than tactics. The few hours' of story are fun but never thrilling, and while the light RPG elements give you the pleasure of leveling up a cast of characters, only the diehards will take the journey a second time.
Beyond the game: Castle Crushers repeatedly plugs The Behemoth's Alien Hominid HD, also available on Xbox Live Arcade. But if cash is tight, hit Newgrounds.com and try Fulp and Paladin's Dad 'N Me, or their scrotal saga Sack Smash.
Worth playing for: The sight gags strewn throughout the game—a knight performing CPR on the battlefield, wild animals crapping themselves in fear—offer a few laughs in the middle of the hacking and slashing. If anything, the game could use more of them.
Frustration sets in when: Up to four people can play the game together—but at press time, critical bugs in the matchmaking system made online play practically impossible. Herding some pals into your living room is your best bet for cooperative play.
Final judgment: It's a fine line between "retro" and "rehash," and while Castle Crashers coughs up a few neat ideas, its freshest element is its art.