Castle Crashers was by far the most fun we had at WonderCon. Everything (well, almost, we'll get to that later) about the experience was positive, interesting, and fun. The booth was hidden behind the Ubisoft one, and was encircled by folding tables covered in drawings. As with many artists who are convention exhibitors, the guys from The Behemoth passed the time by doodling, and (for the first time for these guys) allowing other people to doodle there too. Though the staff in the booth was constantly changing and there was a general commotion around where people were drawing, we were still able to get some good information and impressions. We were able to talk with one of the creators of Castle Crashers, as well as the original hit, Alien Hominid. We were able to play through the demo several times in a few different levels, and we got to see the reaction from the surrounding crowd, most of whom had never heard of the game before seeing it there.
When we spoke to Dan Paladin, one of the key developers of this game and of Alien Hominid, he told us about coming from GDC to WonderCon. About the lack of foresight on their part as to the popularity of the event. They just weren't ready for the number of people who showed up. They didn't bring any of their extra giveaway swag, and just had a small area with hardly enough room for the things that they did bring. There was only a single station, with some sort of jury-rigged mechanism for preventing the theft of controllers, and this thing almost always had four players and a waiting line.
We were lucky enough to arrive before the crowds had wised up to the awesomeness they were walking past, and got some hands-on time with Dan showing us some of the newest things added in the GDC build. That build brought from the earlier event, complete with the GDC-named player profiles (we're "gdcdemo3" in that screenshot!). Of these new things, one was the item pick-ups, which can vary from fruit to jewels and which restore health and add to score. The second was the appearance of the map/overworld screen for the first time. Though the majority of the areas on the screen were unavailable, the size of the map does hint that the game will be rather larger than expected, with an old-school Mario World feel to it.
Playing through several of the stages that were available, we were able to see that the game's base gameplay is going to be a big hit with the XBLA community. The hack-n-slash and Alien Hominid roots are obvious, with the characters scrolling to the right, as well as up and down "along" the screen. The thing that gives it legs however is the variety and the co-op. The four knights all have different elements to them, green for poison, orange for fire, red for electricity, and blue for ice. The elemental knights combined with the teamwork styled gameplay lead to all kinds of different choices and subsequent experiences. Which itself leads to a good assortment of gameplay opportunities and feels a bit like the choice between the turtles and the two-player co-op in the old SNES TMNT game. In fact the whole thing has a bit of that old TMNT-feel, what with the beat-em-up gameplay and importance of co-op.
The variety continued (along with the trademark Behemoth quirkiness) throughout the demo, specifically with the boss of the first level, who had some interesting attack patterns and who was much easier to beat when using good teamwork. The second level we played had us riding some deer while running from a giant black monster who was destroying everything behind us as the deer ran. In a moment similar to running from the whale in Sonic Adventure, all four players, while riding deer, are trying to avoid obstacles, while running forward, while unable to slow for fear of losing health to the giant black monster behind them. Needless to say, it was awesome.
The only tiny negative (told you we'd get to it later) was that the game actually crashed once while we were playing (For those not in-the-know, that screen with the bar is a dev kit's signal that it has hard-crashed. The bar indicates that the kit is saving information about the crash to the hard drive.) Other than that minor detail, which we were assured would not be in the retail game, the experience was the most fun of the convention. The constant utterance of phrases such as "Where can I buy that?" and "When does that come out" coming from the crowd, players, and passersby definitely ensure that the game will have a ready an willing audience when it releases. Now it's only the waiting game.
Summer just can't come soon enough.