I completed Castle Crashers (XBLA) over the weekend with my girlfriend. What's interesting is that when I played the demo with my brother earlier this year, I wasn't entire sold on it, and didn't think it justified a purchase.
But after hearing that it was the No.1 selling Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) game, I just had to check it out, and try to find out exactly what the hell makes it so popular.
And so I mashed, and tapped, and madly rotated my stick occasionally, before finally laying the smackdown on that wizard guy. But more important that kissing the Princesses, is that I managed to take-away some Food-for-Thought from my weekend experience.
What I took away was this: that the success of the game had very much to do with the game meeting the expectations for the type of game distributed on a platform such as XBLA, or perhaps, even across almost the entire Digital Download scene.
The Top 5 reasons that I think made Castle Crashers strike a resonating chord on XBLA are:-
Above all, Castle Crashers is a casual game, something that is so easy to pick-up-and-play, in long or short bursts; and perhaps this says a bit of the profile of the target audience of XBLA - to provide slightly more casual affairs in conjunction to the hardcore-boxset experience.
The game is extremely accessible - no hardcore combo memorization or the like. Button-mashing can get you pretty far. Basically, this means that almost anybody can just pick it up and play, and still have a decent amount of fun with it.
3) Multiplayer Mayhem
Perhaps the biggest sell-through factor for the game, the frantic (and perhaps nostalgic) experience of working together and occasionally against other players, in a tried-and-tested genre that almost anyone can appreciate.
Put this together with Point #2, and you have an ideal party game that non-gaming friends or girlfriends can partake in. For the more hardcore gamers, Castle Crashers would probably be a game to occupy their hands and the occasionally silence while they chat and catch up on their lives or other unimportant stuff.
4) Quirkiness / Personality
Even though the game has ARPG elements like Guardian Heroes (SS), the gameplay hardly carries the same amount of depth. But what Castle Crashers lacks in depth, it more than makes up for it in Personality.
From it's distinctive "Flash-game" graphics to it's humour-laden levels and bosses, almost every minute of Castle Crashers oozes personality, regardless of the gameplay. It's definitely not hard not to at least chuckle at some of the crazy things that happen in the game, like the profusely-shitting animals, for example.
With multiple characters to unlock, different animal orbs to find and weapons to experiment with, Castle Crashers is a game that is choked-full of excuses in revisiting. True, the levels and bosses are always the same with each playthrough, but it's multiplayer alone already gives the game it's own 2 legs in terms of replayability.
For everything else, they just tend to serve as icing on the cake; any additional incentives provided, no matter how minute, gives the seasoned-player an additional reason to sit through the game "just one more time" with a new group of friends - and perhaps even spur people to convince more of their friends to get the game to join in the fun, amounting to it's current success.
All in all, I think that the underlying point is that people expect very different things coming out of a full-priced boxset game and a smaller, indie-developed, digitally-distributed game like Castle Crashers. It has come to a point that the market has enough space for both type of games, and perhaps now, more so than ever, it is important to profile and pander towards that different set of expectations.