It’s a special time in life, when you’re young and everything holds the potential for adventure. Knights and Bikes is built very much on this ethos. It’s a coming of age tale, following new friends Nessa and Demelza on their quest to save an ancient island.
The game was developed by Foam Sword Games, however funds to make the game were raised by Kickstarter donors back in 2016. It was released for PC over a year ago, and scooped numerous best game of the year nominations. The game has finally made its way to Xbox along with Game Pass. The devs claim to “make games about friendship and cooperation, with lots of character, art and heart”. This is an excellent way to describe what Knights and Bikes offers to players.
It’s an action/adventure game which mixes exploration with combat and tongue in cheek storytelling. Demelza and her father arrive on an English island in the ‘80s (the “Thatcher Out” graffiti is a clue), and it soon becomes clear that Demelza is also dealing with the loss of her mother. She finds friendship with Nessa, and together they set off to save the island from an ancient curse.
In a Goonies-style tale, both girls soon acquire bikes and a trusty guide in Captain Honkers. Honkers is a goose with an excellent sense of smell (I’m not going to question that), and provides plenty of laughs as he scrambles to keep up with you whilst you cycle along on your bikes.
You’ll start off your adventure learning about the island’s history before having to battle through the many cursed enemies that rise up to stop you. Demelza and Nessa visit a golf course, spooky fairground and metal scrap yard amongst other dangerous locations on their quest. To help, you’ll have objectives to guide you, as well as on-screen tracks to follow.
Both girls have unique abilities, and you will need to use all of them to complete your objectives. For example, Nessa will acquire her water balloon ability which can put out fire and complete electrical circuits. Demelza discovers the power glove, which can work all sorts of mysterious magic, as well as provide short, sharp bursts of electricity.
Whilst some of your time will be spent on foot, the rest will be taken up cycling on your titular bikes. Each level contains hidden red treasure tins dotted about the environment. These contain collectible loot, but you can’t see how much you have, so it’s best to collect as much as you can. It later becomes clear that this loot is used for upgrading your bikes, both cosmetically and practically. There are loads of customisable options from bike horns to flags, as well as new bits of kit such as deep mud tyres, enabling you to explore new areas. Sometimes loot will drop something you can’t pick it up, but you can use Nessa’s frisbee to scoop up the goodies.
Most of our heroines’ abilities can be used in combat, as well as to solve puzzles. You’ll find yourself battling against all sorts of possessed nasties. Not only this, but boss battles make for hugely entertaining encounters. Health plasters will also drop, and both girls will perform a nice little high five while healing – how cute! A bar at the bottom of the screen will show how many hits each has taken, and how many more they can withstand before being knocked out.
Knights and Bikes isn’t difficult, but it is accessible to all. It takes a little while to get going, but when it does you’ll find it hard to put the game down. That said, there’s plenty of hours of gameplay to keep you entertained too, which is good as you won’t want it to end once you get stuck in.
The utterly human story told about two young girls becoming friends is brilliant. It’s funny, intriguing, and a little sad at times too. You’ll find yourself genuinely caring about both characters and rooting for them every step of the way.
The game can be enjoyed fully by playing solo, as well as online. However local co-op adds something a little extra: playing with someone else and working together with your unique abilities, and exploring the island as a team, is the ultimate way to experience Knights and Bikes, echoing the characters in the game. However, if playing solo your partner is controlled pleasingly well by the game AI, making it a very close second in ways to experience the game.
The game’s “hand-made” approach is most obvious from it’s beautiful visuals. It’s one of the prettiest titles I have played in a long time, and the animated stop motion effects work really well. I am genuinely torn between what impresses me more – the artistic style or the emotion of the storytelling.
My only niggle is the camera. It does a great job of showing off the visuals from various angles, however not being able to manually adjust it can prove a little frustrating when hunting for treasure tins.
It’s not only the visuals that impress, but the musical score compliments the storytelling perfectly. It holds the power to surprise too; I was most struck by a complete change of tone whilst exploring the theme park, which made it sound like I had just walked into an episode of Stranger Things. Amazing.
Knights and Bikes on Xbox One is one of those rare beasts that everyone can enjoy. It may be simple and straightforward to play, but that’s no bad thing. It’s an utterly charming tale that’s loads of fun to play and is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.