REVIEW: BattleBlock Theater Explores Friendship Through Cooperation and Competition

BattleBlock Theater - BattleBlock Theater Ch 7 - 8

Normally, I wouldn’t care to play a game like BattleBlock Theater. Inundated with developer The Behemoth’s trademark crude humor, I’d be more likely to roll my eyes. But for all its feces-focused frivolity, BattleBlock Theater tries to be about something I do care about: friendship.

BattleBlock addresses friendship (the theme—not to be confused with the “S.S. Friend…Ship,” which transports you to a kitty-controlled Guantanamo to entertain the felines in brutal platforming stages) most directly in its cooperative mode. To my surprise, each session translated my general attitude toward Player 2 into corresponding in-game actions. With Nichole, my best friend and long-time girlfriend, I played carefully, helpfully, cooperatively; with Clark, also a good friend (though our common exchanges of sarcastic, cutting jests might suggest otherwise), I played fast and for myself.

This difference between cooperative and competitive play is made possible by an abundance of multi-purpose mechanics and in-game tools, either helpful or harmful. I helped Nichole up to an otherwise unreachable ledge, for example, but I pulled away from Clark so he would drown in acid. I threw my boomerang to block missiles barreling toward Nichole, but I couldn’t resist using the same tool to knock Clark from a carefully timed jump. I could go on. It didn’t take the entire 18 hours I played to realize that BattleBlock is always one of two games: 1) the game it was designed to be: a silly, stylized platformer, with myriad blocks and kitty jailers and antlered raccoon whatchamacallits; or 2) a game of pointless, back-and-forth fucking around with bombs and spikes and acid.

Co-op is admittedly a small piece of the game’s whole, and plenty of the remainder is executed either poorly or in poor taste. Though ostensibly a “puzzle-platformer,” puzzles are mostly nonexistent for half the game, and those thereafter offer little challenge. Rather than requiring conscious effort to use learned mechanics, level navigation often relies on player instincts (run to the right!) to set in motion a rigged-to-awe sequence of pinball-esque platforming. And thanks to the narrator—who oscillates between schizophrenic outbursts of poetic eloquence and prepubescent immaturity—my tolerance for poop and butt jokes is absolutely gone.

Still, with a little help from my friends, we made it to BattleBlock’s outrageous albeit fitting finale. And I’m glad.

Nichole and Clark are, too.