Even the most valiant of heroes have bills to pay. And so goes the tale of Bucket Knight, a game which sees the eponymous hero set off to find the Holy Grail. With 25 short dungeons to explore, you’ll be filling your pockets with loot in no time as you run and jump your way to victory in this retro-style platformer. Interestingly, this knight has also ditched the usual sword and shield combo for some heavy firepower, so you’ll be blasting your way through a range of enemies as well.
There’s a lot to love in this simple package. Pigeon Dev Games have completely nailed the retro feel they were aiming for. Bucket Knight looks and feels like something you’d find on the NES, with its brilliant 2D art style and thematic chiptunes. There’s even a CRT filter on offer for those gamers who want to go all in on the old-school style. The gameplay is simple too. There are only two buttons – jump and shoot – and these controls are responsive and tight. Anyone can pick this one up and be on their way to the Holy Grail within minutes.
Nevertheless, some will find Bucket Knight to be far too easy. Levels take less than a minute to complete and are littered with health pick-ups. Dying is a rarity, and is not overly punishing anyway. Enemies don’t put up much of a fight and you can tank a lot of hits. And the obstacles that the game throws at you are a complete non-issue and too easy to avoid.
Admittedly, this is disappointing at times – levels that involve rising spikes should have a sense of urgency and danger for example, but in Bucket Knight they don’t and you can outrun them with ease. But it would be unfair to say that the game is condescendingly easy. Bucket Knight sets out to offer a mild challenge and on that point it wholly succeeds. The game does well at keeping you on your toes and it is very easy to slip up and die. And Bucket Knight is very good at combining enemies and platforming elements to provide scenarios that require timing and strategy.
Personally, I found this difficulty to be just right. In fact, it was refreshing to play a platformer that offered a stress-free experience for once, rather than one that simply tried to be prohibitively difficult.
Bucket Knight’s length is spot-on as well. You wouldn’t think so, considering it only takes an hour to beat (who knew finding the Holy Grail would be so easy?!), but because the game starts easy, and stays that way for the duration, it’s imperative it doesn’t end up becoming a chore to get through. Bucket Knight’s short run-time prevents that, ending at just the right time.
Still, there are a few design choices that seem puzzling. That difficulty may provide for a stress-free experience, but it isn’t particularly coherent; there should be a smooth difficulty curve. At present, levels are thrown together without any rhyme or reason. One level may have multiple paths with keys, locked doors and chests, only for the next to be a few simple jumps that takes ten seconds to finish. It would have also been nice to have seen a boss fight. The last level is underwhelming, with the Holy Grail just sitting there for you to take. Why not have something protecting it that you have to defeat?
And the one unique element – the fact that you can use guns – isn’t executed well at all. The weapons are reasonably priced and you’ll unlock them at sensible points, but they don’t feel powerful enough or fun to use. A mini-gun costs fifteen thousand coins. It should tear through enemies. But it takes multiple shots to kill even the most lowly goblin. The same goes for the AK-47 and the shotgun. And whether due to a glitch or design choice, every weapon reverts back to single shot after a few bursts anyway, which completely negates the point of buying them in the first place. In a run-and-gun platformer, it is essential that both parts are equally good. In Bucket Knight, the balance is way off. It’s way more fun to run than gun.
Still, even with its issues, this is a game that is well worth checking out. At its core, Bucket Knight on Xbox One is a short but sweet homage to the classic run-and-gun platformer. It’s a game that wholly succeeds at providing players with a laid-back experience that never outstays its welcome. The controls are tight, the gameplay is simple and the graphics are beautifully rendered. Plus there’s a set of easy achievements that should lure in any serious achievement hunter. So if you’re looking for a stress-free adventure with a retro feel, then Bucket Knight is the one for you.