Entering the Deathmatch: Knight Squad

It is difficult to capture the nostalgia and appeal of multi-player party games. I mean, there’s something to be said about sitting up into the late hours of the evening on a caffeine-fueled gamefest blowing each other up (or ruining each other as ghosts) in Bomberman, threatening each other over stealing stars in Mario Party, calling out the camper with a sword in the Halo franchise, or physically kicking the jerk that ALWAYS plays Oddjob in Goldeneye.

We all know that ONE guy. . .

Some game developers are still trying to grab that multiplayer appeal, but few actually pull it off as well as it was done before. Sure, LAN parties are being replaced by people on Skype/Ventrilo playing a game together from across states, but outside of a few gems, there’s not many options for couch party multiplayer.

Enter Knight Squad, a fast-paced game of mayhem and slaughter.

Title

<Note: this review is for the PC Version of the game>

==The Pitch==

Choose a knight, enter the arena, and play in the game to your heart’s content. Grab a sword, bow and arrow, lightning wands, and horses as you charge into medieval warfare! Oh, and let us not forget about miniguns, bombs, lasers, drills, and other tools of destruction. Supports up to 8 players, including local play and online options for added insanity!

Miniguns, away!

==What You Get==

A standard deathmatch game. Firing up the game, you have access to challenges, local games, online play, options, and the chance to buy DLC.

There are a total of six different challenges, each with two difficulty settings (normal and insane), and to get to the next challenge you must complete the one before it. The challenges are Lightning Rampage, Worms Attack, Attack of the Trolls, Crystaylor, Dragon Alert, and Dark Knight’s Army. Each challenge has it’s goals, always involving the destruction of an enemy and a leaderboard system to denote who’s done it the fastest.

The meat of the game for most is in the local/online play options. You have a number of game modes such as Medieval Soccer, Capture the Flag, Juggernaut, Grail, Gladiator, and the traditional Deathmatch (among others). Again, you can get up to 8 players in on the again regardless of whether it is online or local (or a combination thereof).

==The Good==

Right off the bat, I’m laughing at the Mortal Kombat-like announcer. When you choose your Knight or at certain parts of the match, an announcer chimes in that sounds very much like the voice from Mortal Kombat. Nice touch!

Imagine this being read by the Mortal Kombat announcer, and you’ll understand the humor.

While the individual Knights don’t offer playworthy changes outside of color preference (and amusing names like Selfie, Solo, and Shiny), they do offer musical changes. Solo, for example, has more guitar madness going on with their musical choice, so you’re balancing looks with music and gunning for both.

Like other deathmatch games, this is easy to get into. As long as you can press directions and an attack button, you’re golden. Easy to pick up, easy to play.

The challenges, however, are a bit harder but still rely on the same premise.

Most of the game options can include variable time limits, so if you are in that boat of “We have twenty minutes left, how many matches can we get?”, you have your answer.

A timed Gladiator match.

The matches can move rather quickly. This is a one-hit-kill game (with the exception of a few powerups like Shield and Horse), and Last Man Standing mode makes me think of Goldeneye with License to Kill mode: fast and brutal.

==The Bad==

One of the weirdest peeves I have with the game resolves around the power ups, which is really a twofold issue. The first is the odd timing/location of the power ups. Sure, seeing a shield randomly drop in a quiet part of the map is one thing, but playing Last Man Standing and finding the Kamikaze power up (run faster and explode in a few seconds) in the middle of the map seems counter productive to the match style.

The second issue with the power ups is simple: it feels gimmicky. The “normal” power ups of bow (and a rapid-fire crossbow), sword, boomerang, and even bombs are fitting. The rest just feels like it was added in because it’d be fun, like miniguns, lasers, rippers (with bouncing bullets), and a laser that shoots across the map. I’m a bit ambivalent about it; I want to like it because it takes the medieval and says “Hey, here’s something from WAY OUT THERE!”, yet I want to hate it because it feels like someone said “This recipe is great. Let’s add sprinkles to make it better!”

What would make a game with knights cooler? Explosives, drills, and miniguns!

This is doubly annoying considering it’s a one-hit kill game, and power-ups do NOT drop. Did you just pick up the rapid-fire crossbow only to be nuked by a jerk with the kamikaze upgrade? It’s gone for everyone, now. In a way it’s a nice way to ensure that a strong power-up is unavailable, but it is disheartening to spend the time to get a weapon to Level 3 and now it’s gone thanks to a lucky hit, and it’s even more frustrating when you kill someone that has this awesome weapon and you can’t get it for yourself (unless it’s Juggernaut, then you get a minigun).

At least it’s not going to involve feeding the trolls, ne?

This is just a personal peeve, but the game modes and associated maps are locked in. Like one of the map layouts from Capture the Flag? Well, you’ll only see it for CTF games. Tough luck. It’s a pet peeve to be sure, but it is irksome to know that the game types have set specific, limited maps. Sure, some game modes need the space for specific setups and I can see the issue from a programming perspective, but it’s limiting to replayability in my opinion, especially after seeing other deathmatch style games able to use the exact same loadout for a map with different play styles and have special maps for one or two types of matches. This may not bug everyone (as there’s 4-7 maps per game type as it stands), but it can be an annoyance.

Challenges don’t feel horribly original. Skeletons coming from green portals until you break them isn’t too original. The worms are like a thinner version of Moldorm from the Legend of Zelda franchise, which makes it feel a bit like a cheap ripoff. A spinning monster that puts you into a bullet hell game, especially when one hit kills you, is a bit overdone. I wasn’t impressed by them, honestly, and they feel like a way to gain achievements and bragging rights (“Oh yeah? I beat that in 15 seconds! Beat that!” kinda thing).

If this is NOT a LoZ ripoff, I don’t know what is.

In most deathmatch games, walls are amazing. Walls are your friend. Not in Knight Squad! Walls are mostly useless, honestly, as most are easily destroyed by bombs/drills, and you can stab over them.

Note the right hand side here. My blue guy (with white arrow) is literally stabbing people THROUGH THE WALL. This is true for EVERY wall in the game.

I hate admitting it with how simple the game is, but it took a while to get used to the controls. I expected WASD to move, but it was the arrow keys with no mouse usage. A bit odd after so many other games (like Stardew Valley) that stick with the WASD approach. Granted, you can change this with button remapping, but it is worth noting that your reflexive option won’t get you anywhere.

Finally, the multiplayer options leave something to be desired on the PC. Local multiplayer will involve having multiple USB controllers and ways to get everyone to sit around it. For a traditional PC setup (on a desk with one chair), it’s a bit awkward. I was hoping to get some online multiplayer action, but it was like walking into an abandoned server: nothing was going on. Seriously, it was blank.

My view on a Friday night. Either no one was playing, or there’s an issue here. Maybe one leads to the other?

==The Verdict==

For the PC version of the game, I’m giving it 2.5 buns.

Rating 2.5 Stars

The game has everything that I’d want from a couch party game, but it doesn’t have enough to really do anything BESIDES being a couch party game. The gameplay gets a bit repetitive against the AI, and outside of the challenges, there’s nothing else to do besides multiplayer, which is arguably the main reason to get this game.

Challenges can get tough, but once you figure out the timing of most enemies, it’s a cakewalk.

While there are a number of gameplay modes, the games feels a bit dull overall as there isn’t anything in place to really shake things up. No map maker, no random map/gameplay option, no “Set me up in a random collection of this game type,” just gameplay modes locked into a set of maps.

The game has potential, though. It has some comedy, it has a fast-paced combat system, and it brings enough to the table to be interesting, but it falls flat due to recycled ideas and the feeling that it’s adding everything together to be AWESOME instead of taking a well-loved formula and breathing new and interesting life into it.

Eight player multiplayer can only take you so far.

If you are looking at getting this for a console and you have some people to play with regularly, or if you know some friends you can schedule game time with online, then this game is well worth the pricetag (and could arguably be a 3.5 bun game). If you are like me without local gaming friends, then you are better off spending your money on something else, as the largest appeal of the game will be wasted.

Knight Squad is available for XBox One and for PC for Steam for $14.99. The expansion, Extra Chivalrous, is also available for $4.99. Extra Chivalrous was not played as a part of this review.

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