“Inspired by classics from the golden age”. That’s how the description reads on the Jet Set Knights Microsoft Store page. However, as you play the game you’ll realise that it has been very strongly inspired indeed. In fact, I did find myself pondering what Nintendo might make of it.
In fairness, what we have here isn’t a simple clone. Jet Set Knights has added tower defense and RPG elements in an attempt to provide a twist on some very famous games in times gone by. But is it enough to overcome the constant nagging feeling of familiarity?
When you jump into the single player mode, you will be presented with a world map, with the various stages laid out in front of you. Within this familiar format, you have several playable stages, all of which are locked apart from the first one, Graveyard.
The stages are, essentially, tower defense scenarios where you have to survive waves of ghoulish enemies, and protect the princess. You’ll need to zip about the stage, collecting items, treasure and power-ups whilst fending off increasing numbers of enemies. Each stage has a different theme, and a slightly different layout to go with it.
In something very reminiscent of Donkey Kong Country, “BONUS” tiles will appear letter by letter, triggering a timed challenge if you collect them all. Also, occasionally yellow blocks with a “?” will appear, surrendering coins when you hit them. There’s that feeling again.
When you collect treasure chests, at certain points you’ll unlock new weapons which should make the hordes a little easier to deal with. The first power-up you unlock, for example, are ice arrows. These freeze enemies in their tracks and prevent their advance, so you can then finish them off from a safe distance.
The stages are laid out in a similar way to Mario Bros., with tiered platforms that enemies begin to descend down after appearing from portals at the top of the stage. As you slay them, your “LVL” bar will fill, and when you level up you can upgrade an attribute mid-battle. The upgrade only lasts for that stage however; it’s not a permanent increase. You’ll need to get to the fifth wave, which is actually a boss battle – defeat it and you’ll unlock the next stage.
There are various types of enemies, each with their own differing characteristics that you will need to understand to survive the later waves. Each stage has its unique enemies, as well as the boss character after the fourth wave.
These encounters are fairly simple. It mainly consists of dodging projectiles and timing your attacks. Boss characters are much tougher enemies that will take a lot more damage before you defeat them. There is one that seems awfully familiar…
Princess Kitty, who you are battling to save, is useless for the most part. There is a certain power-up that will turn her into a projectile-throwing feline for a brief period. She will also tell you what your current quest is, and once completed it will offer a “big” cash reward. Otherwise, she will stand perfectly still, watching her fate slowly approach her. And yes, if an enemy gets too close to her, it’s game over. This means you’ll start the stage from the very beginning. Thankfully, you are a little more robust however, starting with three lives.
The main difference with Jet Set Knights is the ability to build. When you collect wood, you can construct basic defences around your princess to protect her. It’s a good idea that works well, and ticks the tower defense box.
In terms of RPG elements there are a number of points of interest. You can head over to the shrine of champions to purchase an increase in power for one stage run, for the cost of 10 coins.
You can also visit the gambling house, where you can play mini-games or take your chances on the slot machine to win artifacts. Head to your loot bag to check out what you have won by pressing X on the main map. You can then equip an artifact, which will offer some sort of boost, to help you battle through the stages. The mini-games are unlocked as you play, and are also heavily influenced by some arcade classics.
Finally, there is a daily bonus to be had when you check-in at the treasure chest icon on the map. This is about as far as the online functionality of the game goes in single player mode. However, you can play split-screen multiplayer or competitively online with friends, or matchmake with someone at random.
The game provides a good challenge, but can occasionally pull a cheap shot, such as fake treasure chests that explode if you hover around them for too long. Keep an eye out for an exclamation mark, which is the telltale sign. However, after a few failed attempts to clear the stage, you may be less inclined to come back for more.
There’s an attempt to differentiate with some basic RPG and tower defense elements, which is welcome, but it doesn’t go far enough to stop you realising you’ve most likely played this game before, and it was probably released by Nintendo.
Jet Set Knights’ heavy reliance on inspiration makes it feel altogether too familiar, with some aspects being replicated like-for-like. It’s not quite as entertaining as those games that inspired it, however if you’re not too hung up on originality you’ll find that Jet Set Knights on Xbox One is plenty of fun to play.