There have been more animals who have been nominated for governmental office in the world than games exclusive to the New 3DS. Yet of this meager pool, two are runner-style titles. There is the upcoming Runbow Pocket, which to be fair is more of an action-platformer, and then there is Wind-up Knight 2, available on the New 3DS eShop. Who knew running required so much to, you know... run?
Wind-up Knight 2 originally appeared on the Wii U in 2015 and has made a safe journey to the New 3DS. Part of the reason for its exclusivity - in addition to its use of the Unity engine - might lie in the robust graphical design of its stages, which transfer to 3D well and are quite pretty when you take an eye off your running knight to take a gander. There are also no worries with performance, as everything operates fluidly and controls have a snappy response.
Your mechanical crusader must navigate a path of stages, automatically running from one end to the next. To survive you must jump, roll, slash, and shield your way through a gauntlet of enemies and traps. A run ends with a single hit, a fall, or failing to collect wind-up keys along the way to keep your knight powered, but somebody was kind enough to sprinkle checkpoints about to keep one's progress up after a mistake.
The journey tends to mix things up a bit by throwing in stages with speed-varying terrain or walls that make the knight double back or choose different routes. These stages can be quite fun and memorable, but others are apt to blend together with similarity. Others might be remembered more for the sheer number of hazards they contain or the sometimes cheap-feeling way they are arranged. Whereas a game like Runner 2 has a rhythm to much of its courses, Wind-up Knight 2 likes to throw in surprise shots to break that rhythm up. Some stages will require trial-and-error more than anything else.
After some intro, three sidequests will open up for each completed stage. These set your knight through the same paces, but with different goals. You might have to collect all the fairies hanging about, for example, or roll through bowling pins. These can be fun and inventive at first, forcing some variations in each stage, but the glamour can fade when they start becoming a requirement to move on past certain gates on the world map. Completing all of them would feel like a gruellingly tedious task, but luckily only about a third are required to get through the whole game.
The developers took some extra steps to increase the game's flavour, and they largely pay off. Loading screens feature the land's equivalent of Twitter, which makes for an amusing read and occasionally hands out some tips. Players can also collect coins through the levels and their respective bonuses to buy different gear that can cater to their specific strengths and weaknesses. There is also a local "Tournament" mode where 2-4 players can pass the New 3DS around to compete for high scores, and a single-player version where high scores can net some equipment. It's hard to imagine these modes receiving a lot of use, though.
The music is a light and peppy set of "Renaissance faire"-styled themes that initially add to the atmosphere, but someone can only take so much harpsichord and whistles. It tends to become grating after extended play sessions.
Wind-up Knight 2 is a noble effort with a lovely, whimsical look and tight, reactive gameplay. While it can sink into feelings of repetitiveness at times, there are other moments when stages really click and a grand romp can be had. Fans of runners who don't mind the occasional "gotcha" trap or difficulty spike may very well enjoy this one - most likely in short bursts. Remember: New 3DS only, but if you don't own one the Wii U option is always there.