Pit People is a weird and wonderful in all the right ways.
Pit People, the next game from the makers of the delightful Castle Crashers, is wild, beautiful, and just plain fun to play. San Diego-based indie developer The Behemoth has released three console/PC games so far: Alien Hominid, Castle Crashers, and BattleBlock Theater. Two of those games were downright excellent, and all three demonstrated endless creativity. In fact, I named Castle Crashers Remastered as one of the best Xbox One Games of 2015. Pit People, the Behemoth game formerly known as Game 4, has every chance of living up to that legacy.
During the Xbox Spring Showcase, we had a chance to play Pit People. Every Behemoth game falls into a different genre. This one is a fast-paced strategy game with a wildly inventive story, fantastic artwork, fully animated cinematics, and even co-op play. And most excitingly for Windows fans, it will be both cross-buy and cross-save on Xbox One and Windows 10! Read on for detailed impressions and our interview and gameplay video.
An apocalyptic wonderland
You don't need to have played previous Behemoth games to understand Pit People's storyline, but it does include some fun nods to older titles. Pit People actually takes place some time after BattleBlock Theater, so beware the mild spoilers for that game's ending to follow…
At the end of BattleBlock Theater, the cursed hat that possessed antagonist Hatty Hattington sinks to the bottom of the sea. But the hat's evil does not end there. It fires a beam of energy out from the ocean and all the way into space. There, the beam strikes and kills a mysterious giant floating bear. No I'm not joking!
Unluckily for the citizens of Pit People's world, the blood of the space bear now rains down on their planet. These globs of green blood cause physical destruction wherever they land. Not only that, they also tear holes in time and space itself. Thus guns, robots, and other technology find their way into the game's medieval world, an world in danger of destruction.
After the supremely weird (and magnificent) introduction ends, we meet Horatio, our first protagonist. As the narrator (memorably voiced by BattleBlock Theater's Will Stamper) explains, Horatio is a humble Blueberry Farmer who lives with his only son. As a storm of bear blood erupts from the sky, a group of bandits attack Horatio's farm and threaten to eat his child. Thus Pit People's first battle begins…
After a supremely weird and magnificent introduction, we meet Horatio. He's a humble blueberry farmer — until a storm of bear blood erupts from the sky and bandits attack his farm.
Pit People is a turn-based strategy game in which characters move and battle across hexagonal spaces on the map. But don't worry if you're not an accomplished strategy gamer!
Unlike Skulls of the Shogun (which I found too hard for its own good), the gameplay here really has been streamlined for mainstream gamers. For starters, you don't even need to tell your party members to attack. Move Horatio next to an enemy during your turn, end the turn, and he'll automatically slash at his opponent.
Waiting out the opposition's turn can be passive and even boring in some strategy games, but Pit People uses defense mechanics to keep some pep in the player's step. Horatio uses a shield to block arrows, but only if the player holds the block button. Block with just the right timing and he'll even earn some money for his effort. It's a minor thing, but it keeps you on your toes.
After a few turns and many traded blows, Horatio eventually defeats the bandits. Unfortunately for our hero, the narrator had already decided that Horatio should die during the attack. Having foiled the evil narrator's plans, a tragedy occurs: a giant bear paw smashes the house where Horatio's son Hansel had sheltered. Clearly there's more to this narrator than simply commenting on the game's events. He's out to get you!
Our disheartened hero Horatio now has access to the open world map from which he will seek out quests and companions on his journey to save the world. You'll see evidence of the large-scale damage caused by the bear blood as you explore. Green gobs rain down on buildings and hapless wanderers throughout the periphery of the map.
Soon Horatio encounters a distressed young princess named Pipistrella standing outside of a flaming castle. Inside, our team of two is besieged by raiders on both sides. Pipistrella wields a mace that proves extra effective against helmeted enemies. Horatio's sword does less damage against these bucket-wearing raiders. Thus players learn that they'll have to match up party members against the enemies they're best suited to battle.
Unfortunately, the one-handed bandit leader Helmitor and a few of his men manage to escape from the heroes (with help from the dastardly narrator). The castle crumbles, killing Pipistrella's father in the process. Will all of the protagonists be united by tragedy? With nothing left to stay for, the team heads to a nearby city.
Inside the city, Horatio recruits a friendly cyclops named Yosef to join the party. The two men even opt to join souls, which begins a deliberately confusing cinematic as mystical music plays. Horatio and Yosef remain two distinct characters after the joining. It remains to be seen how important a role this soul joining mechanic plays throughout the game.
The city hosts a coliseum known as The Pit, the same pit from which Pit People gets its name. Here Horatio, Pipistrella, and Yosef enter a pit fight in order to earn some gold.
Yosef proves quite useful in battle, as his dual-wielded axes can be used as either melee or ranged weapons. To throw an axe, simply position Yosef with one space between him and an enemy – he'll toss his weapons automatically. Thus you can position Horatio and Pipistrella directly in front of baddies while Yosef supports them from behind. Again, it's all quite easy to learn, which should prove to be one of Pit People's greatest strengths, along with its ample humor and creativity.
In addition to an extensive single-player campaign, Pit People will support 2-player local co-op and 4-player competitive battles. We didn't get to experience multiplayer, but hopefully it will add even more life to this very lively and unique game.
The Arcade Experience
Although Pit People is a strategy game, The Behemoth likes to help it stand out at gaming events by presenting it more like an arcade game. During the Xbox Spring Showcase, attendees could use either a standard controller or a Razer Atrox Arcade Stick specifically customized for Pit People.
The sticks featured a non-standardized button layout and a wooden lever standing in for the Y button. The custom arcade stick certainly offers a really distinct Pit People experience, but the game is honestly better suited for standard controllers.
Coming soon to Xbox One and Windows 10
Pit People will be coming to both Xbox One and Windows 10, where it should find an appreciative audience of strategy gamers. The Behemoth plans to support both cross-save and cross-buy, meaning that anyone who buys the game will be able to play it on both platforms, hopping back and forth with the same save file. That's truly the promise of Xbox-integrated gaming on Windows 10: full universal and cross-platform functionality.
Pit People doesn't have a solid release date yet, though the developer plans to launch a closed beta later this year. Depending on how well the beta goes, perhaps the full game will make it out in 2016 as well.
Have you played Castle Crashers or Battleblock Theater, loyal readers? And will you give Pit People a try when it comes to Xbox One and Windows 10?