Pit People is finally out of Early Access and officially released on both Steam and Xbox One and if you haven’t already tried it out you should.
Pit People is part comedy show part tactical beat ‘em up. The Behemoth made it, the same studio that made Castle Crashers, one of those original XBLA indie games that blew up
Alongside stuff like Super Meat Boy, it showed people who hadn’t played games since the 16-bit days that games weren’t all just Halo clones and Guitar Hero. Castle Crashers was also co-op, colorful, and whacky, which made it incredibly easy to pick up and show off to a friend. 10 years later, Pit People does something similar, borrowing from different strategy games to mash together a multiplayer game that’s both charmingly ridiculous and exceedingly hard to put down.
There’s a lot going on in the orbit of this game—characters to level up, quests to complete, and a surprising number of menus to flip through—but at bottom it’s about leading your warriors around a battlefield made up of hexagonal spaces so they can bash their enemies to death. The game starts with you taking control of Horatio, a guy with sword, a white picket fence shield, and a surprising amount of hit points. He’s trying to rescue someone, but from there it’s a bit hard to explain much more. There’s an evil teddy bear and maybe you’re trying to stop him, but meanwhile you can earn gold at a local coliseum and find other strange people to join your cause while you try to navigate Pit People’s aggressively postmodern deconstruction of adventure stories.
While you can control their movements each turn, the characters themselves have minds of their own and attack automatically. At first this seemed limiting, but after a short while I started to appreciate how this streamline combat. Playing Pit People is more like being the coach for a high school football team than an actual fighter making tactical choices in the heat of combat. Based on what I’ve played so far I think it’s better for it.
High school football teams play on Friday night. Friday night is also the perfect time to play Pit People. (I hope my editor leaves this segue in.) Tina Amini, one of Kotaku’s former editors, said the same thing about BattleBlock Theater, another The Behemoth game. Pit People feels like a weird teenage get-together at someone’s parents’ house, where everyone’s jacked up on sugar instead of booze and feeling super clever. Everyone’s a comedian in this game, scrambling historical tropes, being generally irreverent and often mumbling gibberish in Ewok voices. Even if only one out of every fourth joke lands, like when a narrator early on calls out the idiocy of the hero racing up several flights of castle steps toward certain doom, the cumulative effect of all the dry humor and silliness is a world that’s pleasant to inhabit.
Pit People has co-op, both local and online, as well as PvP, meaning that if you get really into the RPG grind (which is very easy to do) there’s something for all of that time and effort to be building toward. Combat usually involves trying to kill everything, or at least get far enough in a fight for the cutscene to launch, but there are also other types of quests, such as stealth, that help mix things up. You can also capture remaining fighters at the end of battles, adding a slight Pokemon feel to how your party builds and progresses over the course of the game. There’s also a ton of different weapons and cosmetics, such as swords, axes, and a few Uzis. All of these leads players to attack in different ways and requires you to position your forces differently. How you move and organize your team matters a lot, and more than makes up for the fact that you can’t directly control how your fighters attack.
Pit People’s strongest element is its atmosphere, even if its humor doesn’t always land. Even if you play alone, which is totally fun and viable, it still feels like you’re partying with friends. Even if you just put the game on and let it play in the background while you proceed with the rest of your Friday night, it’s worth it. The Behemoth has always managed to imbue its games with a social, arcade-like quality, and Pit People is no different. It might very well be the studio’s best one yet.