Knightin’+, at heart, is something that attempts to channel the original Legend Of Zelda from way back in 1986. This is something crucially important and is shown through its design structure, be it the layout of items and health or even the way the game scrolls across when entering a new room. Can it do justice to it in its own way or does it come off feeling Tri-forced?
In Knightin’+ you play the role of Sir Lootalot, a brave knight “In a quite generic fairytale kingdom…”. Knightin’s rather tongue-in-cheek style hits the player almost immediately and works as a metacommentary on itself as a game based on a love of The Legend Of Zelda. Its choice to berate its own world is a funny way of accepting how generic their story is. Ironically enough, this works to make the game stand out. Knightin’+ features a practically nonexistent narrative but the few elements of story it does end up giving are often greeted by a short chuckle. Keeping in line with this, the intro is very short and clearly just wants the player to start their adventure.
At the heart of Knightin’+ is its gameplay and a rewarding gameplay loop that fits into a pseudo RPG style. Initially, you walk into the first dungeon with absolutely nothing (which is a silly move on the adventurer’s behalf) but luckily the dungeons have got him covered with a shiny new sword. After taking a practice swing, Sir Lootalot is ready to take on the adventure ahead of him. Initial enemies are a soft and satisfying punching bag (stabbing bag?) clearly intended for the player to get used to the controls. They do little damage and move fairly slowly. It’s after your first kill when you start to realize what is being set up. The enemies move in a videogame way, produce videogame sounds and burst in a flash of gold. This gameplay is the same as all foundations of gameplay and Knightin’+ isn’t afraid to show how those cogs work. Rather than subtly tricking you into a tutorial or skipping it entirely, it merely prepares you in a self-aware way.
Just as this starts to lose its freshness, the game opens up to new gameplay possibilities. Through doing puzzles, grinding gold and completing dungeons, Sir Lootalot starts to upgrade his ability arsenal to include a dash, huge strength and more I won’t spoil for you. In its most basic form, this gameplay loop is addicting and rewarding. It manages to consistently shape the way you see the world around you as more tools are acquired. This is something borrowed from The Legend Of Zelda and manages to emulate the key components of its level design in great ways. There is often a great deal of backtracking in this but it feels rewarding and often challenging to figure out where and why.
All of this would be sullied if the puzzle and level design weren’t good. Luckily Muzt Die Studios understands the essentials of what made these classic titles work. None of the puzzles are too tricky but offer enough difficulty to be satisfying and get harder as the game progresses. The puzzles often take the form of two main types – block puzzles and light puzzles.
In block puzzles, Sir Lootalot is tasked with moving blocks around each other to fit into glowing spaces. These start very simplistic but get harder as the game progresses. After completion, the player is often treated to a new item or area to explore.
In the light puzzles, the player finds a room, often with barriers and circles contained within. When stepped on, the circles light up suggesting some form of pattern. With these, you are tasked with searching for contextual clues to find the correct order. For the most part, both of these puzzles work well.
There are, unfortunately, parts where this level and puzzle design works less well. In the latter half of the game, the puzzles start to focus more on trial and error and a combination of puzzles as opposed to more difficult challenges. For instance, the third dungeon features a portal mechanic which initially is really quite interesting but this ends up feeling convoluted and messy when it requires the player to just remember the right combination of correct puzzles. It does this for multiple floors, which ends up feeling tedious rather than satisfying. The same problem resurfaces in the final dungeon. In this, there are a handful of levels, more than any previous dungeon, but they don’t offer anything new to the table and begin feeling like an artificial way of extending playtime rather than achieving the creative level design started by previous dungeons.
This is a shame as the enemy design from start to finish is interesting and fits the theme of the game. Each dungeon offers new and harder enemies, all with their own unique mechanics. Instead of re-skinning a previous enemy with more health, it feels like you are learning the personality of creatures from the erratic bat to the… cowardly multiplying aubergine? It’s not entirely clear what the latter is and with the style of this game we shouldn’t be surprised.
Another great layer tied to this is Knightin’s art and sound design. It’s simplistic but it works in its favor. The animations are clear and fluid whilst the soundtrack is fitting, to the point you might find yourself humming it by the time you reach the credits. Both its sound and art design are 16-bit inspired and this is made obvious from the first seconds of the game.
Overall, Knightin’+ on Xbox One delivers a nostalgic 16-bit romp through 80’s era The Legend Of Zelda and manages to deliver many of its core tenets in a satisfying and self-aware way. Whilst the game may only take up to a couple of hours to complete, the low price point, engaging gameplay and overall atmosphere make this a title worth looking into.