Many indie games, intentionally or otherwise, try to capture nostalgia by taking heavy inspiration from classic games. Knights And Bikes similarly tries to capture a nostalgic feeling, but does so by reminding players of their carefree youth rather than revered games.
Developer: Foam Sword
Publisher: Double Fine Presents
Release Date: August 27th, 2019
Reviewed on: PC
Available on: PC, PS4
Copy received for free**
A successful Kickstarter game, Knights And Bikes is the first effort from Foam Sword. It’s a narrative driven adventure with light action and puzzle elements. Follow the story of Demelza and her best friend Nessa as they fight a terrible curse by exploring Penfurzy Island in search of an ancient treasure. The whimsical nature of the entire experience manages to capture nostalgic feelings of the carefree days of childhood in a way that I think will resonate strongly with some while entirely alienating others.
The first aspect that will grab the attention of most is the art direction for Knights And Bikes. Rex Crowle, the game’s artist, has created a visually striking game to stand alongside his former work on games such as LittleBigPlanet and Tearaway. The game oozes style and only rarely lets the environments you explore fad into the mundane where appropriate, such as while exploring the rundown port town by the docks. The use of colour and shape give the whole of Knights And Bikes one of the most interesting art-styles I’ve seen in a game all year.
Another big standout of Knights And Bikes is the story. At times it’ll make you laugh, but there are also somber moments that try to say something about how we process the loss of a loved one.
We join Demelza shortly after the passing of her mother. Being a child, she does not deal with her grief and instead walls herself off in a world of imagination. Her quest to find the lost treasure of the island and abate the ancient curse is an analog for the inner turmoil she feels. This results in a game where the scenarios become increasingly disjointed from reality until Demelza finally hits a breaking point and accepts what has transpired. It’s a very personal story that I think will really connect with some people.
Things aren’t all bleak however, as the carefree and childish attitudes of both Demelza and Nessa constantly lighten the mood. Their imaginations transform what they’re doing into much grander tasks. Searching the scrapyard for a missing rune becomes a journey through a perilous dungeon, filled to the brim with traps and puzzles. This reminded me of my own childhood where I’d imagine things were far more exciting than they actually were and gave the game a nostalgic vibe.
Dialogue delivery is also brilliantly done. Cutscenes handle major story beats, but Demelza and Nessa are constantly characterized through their actions, gameplay, and casual conversations throughout the game. The growing friendship between both girls feel a lot more organic as a result. There isn’t ever a time where something feels out of character for either Demelza or Nessa and that’s largely because of how frequently and consistently their characters are reinforced from all aspects of the game.
Having briefly touched on it, lets breakdown the gameplay elements of Knights And Bikes. There are three main components: exploration, combat, and puzzles. There is a fair amount of exploring the various areas of Penfurzy Island across your adventure. You’ll be traveling, largely, by bike between areas. Going off the beaten path occasionally yields some additional background information about the island, or rewards the player with additional currency which can be used for cosmetic bike upgrades.
Combat is similar to a beat ’em up game, but bereft of depth. You obtain items throughout the game, which enhance your combative and puzzle solving capabilities. Certain weapons work better against specific enemy types, so determining what works best is as complex as the fighting ever gets. It adds pacing to more drawn out parts of the game, but I’d have appreciated something a bit more involved.
Puzzles aren’t too different from combat in that they’re fairly simple. The puzzles in a given area are usually centered around the item you obtained in that area. This can make the solutions fairly obvious, but, like combat, the puzzles help to even out the pacing of the whole experience.
Despite the different activities breaking up Knights And Bikes to keep things fresh, there are still times when it drags its heels a little. The game takes place across six days, and both days two and five felt like they carried on for longer than necessary.
Also it is worth mentioning that Knights and Bikes can be played cooperatively. The AI works well and never disrupts the flow of the game so you are able to play it solo. However, I can’t shake the feeling that having a close friend along for the ride might have made the gameplay elements more enjoyable.
Knights And Bikes is a game that I’d give a tepid recommendation for people to check out. The strongest aspects of the game are the story, characters, and art. By that same token, I believe those who don’t resonate as strongly with the story will be immensely bored by the simplistic gameplay elements. The slowness I felt during days two and five would be greatly exacerbated for anyone that finds the writing entirely unlikable. Still, if I’ve said anything here that has peaked your interested I’d give Knights And Bikes a look.
**Copy provided by my friend @JAVM_Animation. He backed the game on Kickstarter and had a spare code which he sent my way. Thank you very much! Your support is much appreciated. 🙂