When barbarian hordes invade and steal the king’s floating crystal and four damsels and suddenly four knights must sally forth to defeat the evil wizard leading them on a grand and extraordinarily weird adventure. The game follows a subtly strange and essentially silly fantasy fairy-tale story involving kidnapping, adventure, and ultimately subverting the day.

Castle Crashers is not free-to-play except that its free to play after buying the $14.99 software—and there’s also a little very nicely priced DLC as well. It’s also not an MMO; it’s an online game that allows for matching and play with friends.

Best played with a controller, CC can be played with a keyboard on the PC, as it’s a 2D side-scrolling brawler. It’s a nicely simplistic turn back to earlier video games in a highly arcade reminiscent style—a great deal like machines where four people could stand side-by-side and find themselves whisked away into a fantasy world swinging axes and magic.

Castle Crashers is all that—although with a slightly off color edge for flavor.

Graphics and Sound: 2D, juvenile but amusing cartoonish world, and a mute king to lead you

At first, Castle Crashers comes across as a somewhat prurient tiptoe through the cartoony tulips by portraying the characters—knights during a barbarian invasion—fighting off all manner of wacky and bizarre enemies with the utmost brutality. The very opening sequences involve a knight falling dead and then damsels getting kidnapped by barbarians (in a particularly overplayed and tired video game trope.)

The game is played entirely in 2D side-scrolling vision with the bad guys marching from the sides a la Golden Axe to get themselves riven limb-from-limb by our intrepid knights. For the most part, the beginning is filled with cartoony scenes of battlefield carnage, dead knights laying on the ground, every now and then a fallen soldier receiving chest compressions from a comrade. The hordes are kindly limited to about what you can handle.

The enemies are equally cartoonish, wielding giant axes, burly arms, and bad attitudes.

During any given fight there’s a lot of stuff going down on the screen. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell where you’re at—in fact, there’s a tendency to get buried under a scrum of badguys. (Or hidden behind the giant boss.) Fortunately, just button mashing can generally lead to survival even if there’s a dogpile; especially because some attacks hit multiple opponents, or grab one and throw them.

The sounds in this game are equally amusing although a little minimalistic. The sounds of battle

As for the music: the music in this game is epic. The beginning has some silly-sounding cartoony pub music that one might expect from a mediaeval reenactment done with a rubber band—but when the game gets into the swing the music is swelling and punishing. As you wade onto the battlefield there’s the rumble of a battle hymn following in your wake as you start pummeling through the bad guys.

The swish and crash of metal-on-metal comes out as crashes and smacks (in a cartoony sound effect mesh). In all, the music, the sounds, and the cartoony nature of the game all work together extremely well to create an extremely amusing environment.

Add in multiplayer to multiply this x4 and you’ve got Castle Crashers.

Gameplay: Bring on the 2D brawl and beat up pooping animals for fun and profit

Developed by The Behemoth with Xbox and New Grounds in mind, Castle Crashers is designed for use with a controller and not a keyboard and mouse—although it’s passable to play it with a keyboard. I’m not about to suggest that you do that (I did while writing this review and this is for the PC version.) The learning curve with a keyboard is much larger than it would be with a controller but after enough practice my fingers started to work properly without having to remap the keys originally set.

Much like controller games there are two primary attacks: quick and strong—mapped to their respective keys. It’s also possible to jump, there’s a special-item use button (and select button), as well as item select. Knights also have a type of magic (ice, electricity, fire, and poison) that they can enable by holding down a key and then hitting one of their attack buttons (or jump.) As well as all this, the game has a combo system.

In all: It feels a lot like a little bit of button mashing and a little bit of thinking on your feet when fighting badguys.

There are a lot of levels to play though. While it feels like a 2D side-scrolling brawler much run out of things to do, then you run into something you totally wouldn’t expect: like a level where you must escape a giant monster while riding on the back of a deer running through a lumber mill. Or, for those leery of lumber, there’s a series of levels played while riding on sharks and flotsam along a river.

The boss monsters are equally disturbing and often juvenile. A cat that hocks up loogies and spits hairballa at you or a giant bat that poops on you as it flies overhead. Of course, that doesn’t mean that otherwise more normal bosses such as siege engines, giants with huge spiked shields, or ogres with clubs don’t make an appearance—it’s just that the game has a lot of cartoon weirdness to throw into the mix to keep players entertained and challenged.

Since each of the knights has magic, this can be a big part of playing the game—and leveling up opens up new and interesting combos or magic abilities such as a normal magic attack, a strong attack, and a quick attack. The green knight uses puffs of poison and as he levels you gain access to splashes of poison in clouds, to small globs of poison tossed horizontally, and even a leaping attack with a splash-down of toxins. It adds a very fun extra element to the game (something to see the next-unlock in magic.)

Then there are weapons and something called animal orbs.

Weapons come and go like anything else, they often drop from enemies and can be traded out at any time during the game. All you need to do is visit the blacksmith who happens to own a giant frog-thing that has a very, very long gut and inside the gut is every weapon you’ve collected in the game. Some weapons are stronger, faster, hit harder, or increase magic attributes—most are mediaeval weapons but some are silly or odd.

Animal orbs are basically very round animals that hang around various maps. Picking one up conveys some sort of a boon to the player either through adding attributes or doing something else for the player—for example there’s a bat orb that bites onto enemies heads and forces them to struggle and a ram who increases player toughness. Most of these can be picked up in various map locations and completing specific conditions.

Buy-to-Play: It’s cheap, but you still gotta purchase it to play, with no subscription

If you don’t catch Castle Crashers in a Humble Bundle, it’ll run you about $14.99 on Steam. After that, it’s free to play over the Steam network and will use that to help you play with your friends and strangers already on the system.

Much of the game is unlockable, including other characters and animal orbs, but some of them come from downloadable content. DLC such as the Blacksmith Pack and Pink Knight Pack are only $0.99 each.

In all, there’s a lot of value to be had in both the game and the DLC.

Conclusion: It’s one of those games that’s a lot more fun with friends (or strangers)

This is a party game in every sense: this game is a cartoony decent into hilariously prurient graphics and motifs, and its fun to play; but this game is a lot more fun to play with a group of people—and you don’t need to know all of them. It’s a 2D brawler with a lot of collectable and leveling elements.

The juvenility and general atmosphere of lets-beat-up-the-world make the game a hilarious sideshow. When I played, I met people I could only mutely hack through badguys alongside—and more than one wanted to show off their extensive repository of animals and weapons—and in that moment I discovered that it’s just as amusing a game with strangers as with friends.

With friends, Castle Crashers becomes a new experience where four people wade into a bizarre world of strange creatures, a story full of plot and expectation, with a lot of strange along the way.