I’m usually not one to get excited about XBox Live’s downloadable content, and I’m easily made weary from seeing a certain someone at a certain console manufacturer spam Twitter with messages about the same. (What’s that you say? I can buy a polo shirt now for my Live-atar? Do go on!)
But I’m feeling markedly different today because XBL is releasing the first in-game content for Behemoth’s truly majestic sidescroller Castle Crashers, a game that has grown dear to my heart due the simple fact it’s in heavy rotation (still…) in my home.
Now, mind you, I haven’t actually played Crashers in months; rather, I have three boys (ages 12, 7 and 5) who are endeared and committed to this game on a level that is deeper even than their affinities for the new Clone Wars series, pepperoni Hot Pockets and chocolate milk. These boys of mine are good-natured, thoughtful, and respectful in ways that mark their close bonds to one another, and the large amounts of time they’ve spent together have always involved both physical and virtual gaming. They are, for the most part anyway, compassionate gamers, too, which I believe is incredibly important if they are to fully enjoy and learn from their experiences. I do not tolerate any squabbling or frustrated pissing/moaning about how a certain game is—to quote the 7 year old—”a big fat rip-off!” And for the overwhelming majority of the games they play, they are genuinely, positively engaged. My oldest in particular has recently taken a very serious approach to playing Japanese RPGs, and he is meticulously replaying the Kingdom Hearts series on his PS2, literally wringing every drop from the narrative. He is serenely contemplative as he plays these games, and he considers them to be equally important to the “tween” novels and manga he reads so voraciously.
But when it comes to Crashers, all three of them viscerally respond to the game’s beat-em-up aesthetic that is much more than just skin deep. The suavely color-coordinated knight-sprites are very much action heroes to them, and for at least the last four months I’ve had the youngest boy wake me up every Saturday and Sunday morning (well before any sane or mature person would consider to be a reasonable time to get out of bed, by the way) with the faint but familiar whisper:
Dad, can we play on the 360?
Their incredibly hip grandmother visited us back in October for two weeks, and after living in our a household (where television programming takes a distant third place to web surfing and playing videogames), she became so well-acquainted with the thunderous, triumphant music that plays while the game is loading she bought each of the boys a vinyl figure of their favorite chromakeyed character. These they have kept in their acrylic showcases every night since Christmas, and the middle boy is dead-determined to use his figure to craft a Halloween costume for himself this year (thanks, of course, in part to having seen pictures of this dude’s amazing ensemble).
When Crashers was released last year, there was much a kerfuffle over how much Microsoft was charging at the gate. I was baffled by this conversation back then, and probably even more so now. As regular listeners of the podcast already know, I don’t like to get caught up in conversations about games-as-commodity unless we’re talking in only the most theoretical of terms. However, in this particular case, I think it’s fairly obvious Behemoth has a rock-solid intellectual property that is not only an economic success but is arguably a cultural one as well. There’s really no need for WiiFit in our house because my 5-year-old son constantly jumps up and down as he plays the game—usually and virtually nonstop for 30 or 40 minutes—as he imitates his knight’s animation. He does this unconsciously, too, it seems, because I make him stop when he is obviously tiring himself; after only a minute’s rest at most, he will be back on his feet again, the music and movement coursing through him as might a dream.
Castle Crashers is—and will probably always be—at the very least a fond childhood memory for the three most important people to me on this planet. In the end, I guess what I’m asking, is how do you put a price on something like that?