Need to know
What is it? A cooperative action adventure
Expect to pay: $20/£15.49
Developer: Foam Sword
Publisher: Double Fine
Reviewed on: Intel i3 8100, Nvidia GTX 1060, 8GB RAM
Multiplayer? One to two player co-op.
Link: Official site
If your childhood was anything like mine, you would've spent an inordinate amount of time riding a bicycle. I rode my bike into town to trade in games at an indie game store, cycled over to a nearby field to play football with my mates, and generally just rode my bike to ride my bike. I would peddle for miles because what better way to spend time with your friends, away from the prying eyes of parents and other adults?
Knights and Bikes taps into this childhood nostalgia with a charming cooperative adventure about a burgeoning friendship that also happens to include knights, bikes, curses, buried treasure, a goose named Honkers, and eating scones with cream on top and jam on the bottom—no exceptions.
It takes place on the fictional British island of Penfurzy, which is based on the actual British county of Cornwall, located on the rugged southwestern tip of the English coast. Anyone who's been to an English seaside town will feel right at home in Penfurzy, what with all the pasty shops, caravan parks, and flocks of seagulls looking to nab a chip from the portion you have wrapped in greasy newspaper.
If you have no idea what I'm talking about, fear not: Knights and Bikes' evocative art style will effortlessly draw you into its vibrant world. The lovingly hand-painted art design is reminiscent of Media Molecule's Tearaway in some aspects—which makes sense when you consider one of its creators worked at the famed British studio. Characters are seemingly made from paper cutouts, and there's a tangible sense that a child's fingerprints are imprinted in each brush of paint and scribble of crayon without it ever coming across like an adult's poor imitation of a child's drawings.
The wild imaginations of protagonist's Demelza and Nessa are reflected in their surroundings by this expressive art style, and this informs parts of the story as well. Demelza is a native of Penfurzy whereas Nessa initially sets foot on the island at the beginning of the game. The pair quickly strike up a friendship despite their differences, embarking on an adventure revolving around ancient knights, a terrifying curse, and the hidden treasure any good escapade needs to propel it forwards. Yet the real heart of the narrative resides in the two girl's growing bond. Knights and Bikes tells a heartfelt tale that's wonderfully written, touching on subjects such as family, grief, the concept of home, and how each of these affect Demelza and Nessa's relationship.
Sometimes it's obvious when the pair's fantasy world bleeds into reality, like when a hastily drawn dragon is overlaid on a car crusher. But the curse, and whether it's real or just part of the girl's vivid imaginations, is left ambiguous. What this does mean, however, is that there are plenty of enemies to fight. The curse in question transforms everyday objects into sentient beings, mobilising golf balls, foam swords, and spooky gloves. Demelza and Nezza each have their own pedestrian arsenal of items to fend off the approaching horde of mudanity. There are straightforward weapons like frisbees, water balloons, and a toilet plunger, but things get more fantastical later on when you're able to utilise the sonic power of a boombox or the mystical properties of a faux Nintendo Power Glove.
Combat is relatively simple; some items are more effective against specific enemy types than others. Being a co-op game, there's also synergy between both character's items. For instance, any puddles Nessa creates can be electrified by Demelza's Power Glove to shock enemies or create electric links to solve puzzles. If you're playing alone, the AI can more than handle itself, using the right tool in the right situation and combining with you when the opportunity arises.
Outside of combat you'll spend a fair amount of time traversing Penfurzy on bikes. You can customise them with things like sparkly streamers and gold reflectors to add some flash. There are also upgrades like a sporty mudguard that allow access to previously inaccessible areas, but clearly this isn't as important as making your bike look cool.
The only problems with Knights and Bikes stem from its eight hour playtime. Combat is uncomplicated yet fun, but it doesn't evolve enough to remain engaging throughout, especially when there are so few enemy types. There's also a moment where it feels like it reaches a natural conclusion only to drag on for another 45 minutes.
Despite these issues, it's clear to see why Double Fine decided to publish Knights and Bikes. It's a perfect fit among the studio's own output, telling a well-written tale with a beautiful art style, that's slightly letdown by stretching straightforward combat too thin. It's worth it for the story alone, but unlike my childhood bike rides, the journey to the end isn't riveting the whole way through.