Since the inception of the Virtual Console, fans have been waiting hopefully for many must-have titles; people usually have one game they’re especially fond of and would like to see given a new lease of life on Nintendo’s retro gaming service. However, over the past year or so we’ve been amazed by the number of fans we’ve had asking about not an individual game, but for the retro output of an entire company: Squaresoft.
Although VC gamers were granted the sublime Actraiser early on, we’ve seen very little movement from the Japanese giant since. Understandably, people got quite excited when King’s Knight appeared on the ‘coming soon’ list, but sadly that expectation is ill-founded – this certainly isn’t comparable to the likes of Final Fantasy or Chrono Trigger.
Although King’s Knight takes place in the kind of medieval fantasy world you would normally expect one of Square’s RPG epics to be set in, it’s actually a force-scrolling vertical shooter, albeit with very slight role-playing elements. The plot is the usual ‘save the princess’ nonsense and you assume control of four plucky adventurers with particularly stupid names like ‘Ray Jack’ and ‘Toby’. The concept is that when one character dies, you assume control of another.
As you fight your way through each level you come across power-ups that boost your life, speed and firepower. There are also icons that decrease your character’s life-force so it pays to take your time and not wade into the fray thinking everything you pick up is helpful.
In fact, running right into battle is a bad idea full stop, because enemies have an annoying tendency to appear from out of nowhere. You see, your weapons have the ability to destroy scenery and in doing so you not only reveal power-ups but also hostile creatures, which then waste no time in running towards you and inflicting almost unavoidable damage. This is unbelievably irritating because you often find yourself in an inescapable position thanks to the fact that you happened to shoot a nearby wall.
To further reinforce the RPG side of things, there are several elements scattered around the game (usually inside caves) that imbue your characters with special powers when they are all collected. Before you get too excited, it’s worth noting that the eventual pay-off is somewhat underwhelming.
Sonically and graphically the game is a mixed bag; the soundtrack is actually pretty decent but the visuals are terrible. Your heroes mince about like they've got a bunch of pineapples stuck down their codpieces and to call the enemy design bland would be doing it a favour.
King’s Knight is, at best, a brave attempt to try to fuse the vertical shooter with the RPG genre. At its worst it’s a poorly designed and ultimately frustrating mess that really isn’t worth any of your time. Don’t be suckered in by the credentials of the developer; there’s a very good reason why you’ve never heard of this game.