I think the best word to describe Horned Knight is ‘typical’. This is the same retro-style 2D action platformer you’ve seen countless times on the Xbox Store. There is nothing here that you won’t have seen before. There’s even the pixel art that seems to come as standard with pretty much any small indie game these days.
You’ll be taking control of the mythical Hero Knight, who must conquer 32 levels of ghoulish enemies, lava pools and spike traps. Why? Who knows… the game never makes it clear. Never mind – a lack of story doesn’t make or break a game. A lack of variety, on the other hand, often does.
Unfortunately, Horned Knight suffers from this too. 32 levels, split across four chapters, seems like a great deal at first, but you’ll quickly realise how repetitive they are. Each level is essentially the same as the one before it, with the same five enemy types and same traps cropping up time and time again. And the game differentiates between its chapters not with new enemies, traps and challenges, but by reskinning the background to a slightly different colour.
Horned Knight does try to combat the repetitiveness by throwing in the odd chase-style level where you’ll have to out-climb a rising pool of lava. There’s also a boss battle at the end of each chapter. They’re both welcome additions, if only to break up the monotony of the game. Unfortunately, they’re simply too few and far between to prevent Horned Knight from becoming overly-repetitive. They’re also surprisingly easy. I never once ended up falling victim to that rising lava, and the bosses can be undone by simply recognising their set pattern and whacking them a few times.
There’s nothing to bring you back either. After you’ve beaten that final boss, you’ve seen all there is to see. There aren’t any collectibles or hidden secrets. The game does come with a hard mode where you get limited lives to finish a level, but with no new traps, enemy types or achievements for finishing it, I see little reason to bother. Horned Knight also recognises whether you’ve ‘perfected’ a level on the main menu, but again, there is little reason to bother going through each level again just to beat it without dying.
I’ll admit. I’ve painted a rather bleak picture of Horned Knight. And yet on a fundamental level, the game plays really well. The controls are smooth and responsive and operate on a ‘easy to pick up, hard to master’ system. There has never really been a time where the game cheated me into a death. Just like any good game in this genre, everything came down to my platforming skill and my reactions.
After playing the tutorial, I was worried that the dash mechanic would be something seen far too often in indie games – a mechanic that is just plonked in for the sake of it. Fortunately, it’s not. In fact, you’ll be using it often, and in creative ways too. There are times where you’ll have to chain wall jumps and dashes together to overcome deviously placed traps. You can angle your dashes too, so there’s a real freedom of movement when the Knight is airborne.
Indeed, it makes full use of all the abilities in the Knight’s repertoire. Across one level, you might be wall-jumping, sliding down walls, or dashing across massive gaps on top of killing enemies and jumping over lava pools. Horned Knight also creates scenarios where you’ll be expected to chain these moves together in order to overcome naturally difficult platforming sections. The only thing I would have liked would have been a block ability. Our Knight carries a shield but never uses it, and this would have been useful in later levels where enemies are constantly throwing fireballs.
Horned Knight is a strange one. It’s a game that suffers from an extreme lack of variety, story and replayability. It’s a game that becomes repetitive rather quickly. It’s a game that does nothing to set itself apart from the hundreds of games of a similar nature that already exist on the market. And yet at the same time, it’s fundamentally solid from a pure gameplay perspective, with smooth, responsive controls and naturally difficult platforming sections that really test a player’s skill.
Does this make up for all those issues I outlined? It’s tough to say, and ultimately up to the individual playing it. For me, I enjoyed my time with Horned Knight on Xbox. I appreciated the emphasis it placed on player skill, and the game provided the kind of challenge I expected going into it. I’d cautiously recommend picking this one up.