Apple Knight (Switch) review
"It didn't fall far enough from the tree..."
I like to give mobile games ported to console a fair shake. After all, I've played my share of titles from phone-based platforms that were quite solid, not to mention a handful that saw terrific ports with plenty of extras and the removal of predator content. Goblin Sword, for instance, proved to be a stellar addition to my Switch library. Apple Knight, originally released on Apple mobile devices (hence the name, I guess), seemed like it made a fair enough jump to Nintendo's console for me to consider giving it a spin. Well, that and I had some extra in-store credit after making several big purchases on Nintendo's store, so I didn't technically pay for this one. At least I had that rationalization to soften the blow a bit if things went south...
I know, it sounds like I'm building towards a tale of utter disappointment, as if this fantasy-themed platformer performed about as well as Aldred Knight or Reknum, both of which were not-so-great offerings. The truth is Apple is fine. Just fine...
There's little I can levy against this adventure. It sports an appropriately dated and colorful presentation and tight play control, paired with swift mechanics and plenty of elaborately designed stages that hold two or three secrets apiece. There's plenty to explore and lots of enemies to scotch, not to mention loot to discover. Your HUD lists a certain number of chests to locate, each of which showers you in coins and jewels. On top of that, you get two hidden chests to slice open, giving receive handsome bounties. Should you survive an onslaught, your money pours into a bank of cash, which you can spend on upgrades.
Your weapons, armor, and spells grow more powerful as you secure additional credits. You trade your piddly sword in for a longer one, and eventually things like axes and hammers. As you purchase further weaponry, new ones become available. Plus, each piece of equipment comes with more than one stat upgrade. Armor not only bolsters your attack damage and provides further hit points, but also comes with various pets that support you in battle and added abilities, such as a triple jump.
Additional goods become necessary for survival because your foes grow more powerful as you advance. Over time, basic guards take more than a single shot to fell, and mages might require advanced magic that deals greater damage per blast. Also, having extra hit points helps tremendously. Each environment you burn through comes with so many enemies, obstacles, and traps that it's nearly impossible to come out of a single gauntlet unscathed. Yes, it can still be done (and must be done if you select the “ultra hard” difficulty setting), but you'd be lucky to come out of some of the mid-to-late stages unharmed.
The only snag with upgrades comes in the form of grinding. Yes, grinding. In a platformer. What is this, an RPG from 1992? Anyway, in order to afford some of the best stuff on offer, you'll need to secure massive quantities of moolah, and the only way to do that is fully replay levels and score as much money as possible. Your only other option lies in checking out the “endless adventure” provided in the main menu, which almost sounds like a procedurally generated endless runner. Unfortunately, this mode of play is a lot less exciting than that, as it's nothing more than randomized levels from the campaign fed to you until you die or get tired of playing. But hey, it's a good way to rake in some cash, even if you do sometimes end up playing the same level twice in a row. You just need to be willing to subject yourself to hours and hours of repetition...
And really, all of he above constitutes the minimum I expect from a fantasy platformer. This game has done more or less what it set out to do, but it fails to wow beyond that, and thus doesn't manage to stand out in a genre that's already packed with wonderful games.
The main thing holding Apple back concerns its aggressive “sameness.” Though each level features a decent network of corridors, platforms, and tiny segments all crammed into tight quarters, every moment plays to the same effect. You see it in each level block's theme, and how rigidly each stage sticks to it. Level 1-1 honestly doesn't feel much different than 1-9 or any other point in between because all of the content bleeds together. And hell, each collection's theme is the just about only thing that differentiates one group of levels from another. Granted, you encounter slightly newer enemies now and then, including fire-breathing worms and floating liches, but they do little to help any scene or the experience as a whole stand out.
Worse, you get all of one BGM throughout the entire campaign. From the very beginning, a generic adventure theme plays. It doesn't offend, per se, but it also doesn't inspire. You just hope that as levels go by that a new cut will sound off. Sadly, that same song blares for all forty stages, including boss encounters and the final boss confrontation. Yes, the music that plays when take on the main antagonist in stage 4-10 is the same as the tune heard for all thirty-nine challenges before it.
In other words, Apple possesses the groundwork for a great platformer, but unfortunately kneecaps itself through a lack of variety. In a way, it reminds me of old Hanna-Barbera cartoons where animations, backgrounds, and music are rehashed ad nauseam. Yeah, I get that this title was crafted for Apple phones, but that doesn't pardon repetitive play and style. Hell, the aforementioned Goblins Sword was also a mobile app before crossing over to Switch, and yet that game absolutely nailed its concept.
Apple Knight isn't terrible by any means and sometimes provides fair entertainment. However, in a world where retro-inspired platformers are plentiful, there's little reason to make a detour to this one unless you've already beaten all of the best specimens the genre has to offer. Honestly, this one doesn't help make a case in favor of mobile ports much, aside from showing that they can exist without tacked on ads and freemium content. In other words, Apple demonstrates plenty of potential to serve as a strong mobile port that could quiet the category's detractors, but ultimately does little to silence their typical (and often justified) criticisms.
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (November 11, 2023)
Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.
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