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King's Knight (NES) artwork

King's Knight (NES) review

"It’s called King’s Knight. It was made by Square. And it’s got all manner of wizards, warriors, monsters, and magical spells! Surely this is an epic RPG, rich with complex character development and deep old-school gameplay! "

It’s called King’s Knight. It was made by Square. And it’s got all manner of wizards, warriors, monsters, and magical spells! Surely this is an epic RPG, rich with complex character development and deep old-school gameplay!

Haha. No. Despite its fantasy atmosphere, King’s Knight is a shmup, with no speaking roles and nothing in the way of depth or ingenuity. It’s a top-down shooter, with the player's obligatory ship replaced with a knight or a wizard or whatever, and his enemies – i.e., other ships – swapped out for snakes, goblins, witches, and other assorted fantasy beasts.

Meet Rayjack. He is your first character in the game, a knight equipped with a sword he never uses. Instead, Rayjack fires… lasers, I guess? I’m not sure. He needs to shoot something in this shooter, so yeah, why not. Lasers. Also, Rayjack is extraordinarily slow. This may be due to the weight of his armor bogging him down, but is probably because King’s Knight sucks. Rayjack’s foes (and there are lots and lots of them) are not slow, by the way. They will outrun you and kamikaze you the way any shmup enemy would, except that these are biological enemies, and thus, they do not explode. But hey, whatever.

I note that Rayjack’s level is extremely colorful. He is blue, while the ground is green, the rocks blocking his path are brown, and his enemies come in a wide variety of colors. The contrast between foreground and background objects ensures that everything can be seen easily. This may not sound too impressive to you, but trust me, you’ll cherish this experience later.

Something else worth noting is that the ground will randomly, inexplicably open up beneath Rayjack for no apparent reason. There is no way to predict when this will happen, and once Rayjack has fallen into a bottomless pit, he’s dead. Square most likely did this to make the game more challenging. Technically, they succeeded.

There are giant rock formations blocking your path, but no matter! Your knight can shoot through them with his ray gun. I advise against this, however, because doing so will usually reveal enemies that were previously concealed. The one thing this game does not need is more opposition, and Rayjack’s sluggish speed makes such overwhelming situations an undesirable scenario. You may also uncover arrows, which in some way affect your health. Up arrows restore life; down arrows deal damage. So, um, try not to step on the down arrows.

Make it past the bottomless pits and legions of beasties, and you’ll reach The Ocean. Every level contains The Ocean, and it is a deathtrap for all who enter. Square apparently found it difficult to simulate water movement in a 2D shooter, and thus decided to model swimming controls after the action of walking across solid ice in bowling shoes. Rayjack, when confronted with a body of water, is awfully slippery, and his opposition can conveniently hide beneath the surface, only to occasionally pop back out and fire at our sitting-duck hero before sinking to safety once more. Rayjack is always vulnerable in The Ocean; his enemies are not.

Try as you may, Rayjack will die.

Meet Kaliva. He is an old man with a beard who moves at the speed of an old man with a beard. Here’s something you can do for a fun side quest: Every time the game says “Kaliva,” laugh at what a funny name it is.

He replaces Rayjack when the time comes. You’d think this would mean he’d take over in the same spot, in the same level. But no. Kaliva gets his own level, as does each character in King’s Knight. Fail at one stage, and you’ve missed your chance.

Kaliva is white, as are his enemies. Their bullets are also white, which means they are extremely difficult to locate as they travel over the level’s white background – and it’s not even snowing. See if you can spot the projectiles I’ve helpfully labeled in this screenshot:

More white than New Hampshire. Ohhhhhhh.

Even when you do see your enemies and their projectiles – which is rare – good luck maneuvering Kaliva out of their path in time. The game contains a power-up that increases the speed of your character. The effect isn’t so powerful that you’d actually notice the change, but I love the irony of Square adding a power-up that is basically meant to correct one of the game’s flaws.

I’m assuming Kaliva’s level contains The Ocean, but I have never gotten far enough to know for sure. This may be because I’m relatively inexperienced in the world of shmups, but I’d guess it’s because King’s Knight is difficult for the wrong reasons.

Try as you may, Kaliva will die.

Meet Barusa. He’s a reptilian beast, or a “monster” as the game calls him. Barusa is green, as are his enemies. Their bullets are also green, which means they are extremely difficult to locate as they travel over the level’s green background. Occasionally during Barusa’s outing, Square deems it necessary to treat us with a bit of puzzle-solving:

I got nothin'.

Bear in mind, down arrows mean a loss of health. Hmm.

Barusa’s stage is easier than Kaliva’s, despite the bullets being in a similar camouflage mode. You might even make it to The Ocean, where your inevitable death awaits. Either way, the overwhelming number of enemies, added to Barusa’s comically slow pace, make for a tedious experience.

Try as you may, Barusa will die.

Meet Toby. He’s a kid thief! He is red, as are his enemies and their projectiles. Yet his environment is green! Red and green are opposing colors, providing for a stark contrast between the background and interactive objects. For once, the action in King’s Knight is VISIBLE. Toby’s level will almost certainly be easier, and therefore more enjoyable!

Yet “easier” is a paradox in King’s Knight. “Easier” simply means that players are more likely to reach The Ocean, where, no matter the difficulty, they will die. It’s one thing honing mad hot shmup skills and navigating slow characters through levels in which they can barely keep up. But once you hit The Ocean, the slip-sliding controls and vanishing enemies guarantee an experience that is too painful for any gamer to endure. So when the game finally becomes easy, that only increases your chances of making it to the impossible part.

Try as you may, you will not enjoy King’s Knight.

Suskie's avatar
Featured community review by Suskie (September 17, 2007)

Mike Suskie is a freelance writer who has contributed to GamesRadar and has a blog. He can usually be found on Twitter at @MikeSuskie.

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