I’ve played a lot of video games, but very few have truly blown me away.
I’m not a very picky person. If it’s got a good story, decent graphics, packs in a few creative concepts or is just fun to play, I’m probably going to like it. That isn’t to say that I’m a bad judge; I just tend to appreciate anything that has clear time and effort put into it. Knights and Bikes from developer Foam Sword and Publisher Double Fine has a great story, fantastic graphics and all of the wonderful qualities mentioned above. Along with a whole host of other things that make it one of the best games I’ve played in some time.
Knights and Bikes tells the story of young girls Demelza and Nessa. Set on a fictional British island in the 1980s, the game follows the two girls as they explore the coasts of Penzfury brought to life by their imagination. Along with one of Demelza’s goose, Honkers, and the head of an undead knight, the girls form a bicycle gang whose goal is to destroy a powerful curse that has begun taking over the beloved island. It’s your job to take on the role of the two imaginative bikers to save Penzfury once and for all.
When you first load up Knights and Bikes, it may not be obvious what kind of game it is exactly. You’ll soon realise that it doesn’t really fit into any one genre; it’s a mixture of many things that mould together to create its own perfect mix of action, adventure and awesome.
Knights and Bikes can be played by yourself or in local co-op with a friend. I played the majority of the game by myself and found the AI to be perfectly adequate. No annoying AI nonsense holding me back from having a fun time. But it’s clear that the game is meant for two people – and it is much more fun with a friend in tow. There’s nothing better than getting a boo-boo and forcing your friend to come over and high-five you so you can heal yourself.
The first big adventure that you’ll take with the girls is to the nearby mini-golf course that Demelza’s family used to run. One of your goals is to hit as many of the targets on the course as you can. Only when a target suddenly grows legs and starts to run away do you realise that you’ve been transported into the girls’ imaginations where monsters form and epic adventures take place.
Once the curse begins to take over, you’ll be dealing with what feel like very real threats against your characters’ lives. Each girl gets her own set of hits that she can take. Each hit is marked by a boo-boo at the bottom of the screen. If you’ve collected band-aids in your travels you can use those to heal yourself by meeting up and high fiving – not a difficult feat as the girls spend almost the entirety of the game together.
Both Demelza and Nessa have differing abilities. When you play single-player you can switch between the two characters to utilise all of the abilities. Nessa is able to use a frisbee for long range attacks, and later a water balloon that does splash damage. Demelza is able to kick up the ground around her, splash in puddles and doing a Mario-esque ground pound that covers a wide area. She also acquires a long-range plunger that can either be a remote bomb, or can be used to pull enemies towards her.
The fact that both the girls have their own set of actions they need to perform means that Knights and Bikes‘ co-operative play is very effective. Players are unable to get past many of the obstacles without using both girls’ abilities so it encourages a high level of co-operation. The girls’ other friends that join their group later on – like Honkers the goose, who’s great a tracking – use their abilities passively, so you aren’t having to deal with multiple things at once.
When Demelza and Nessa aren’t running around wreaking havoc and attempting to save their island, they’re riding around on their wicked bikes. Penzfury has its own bike shop which, conveniently, takes the junk you collect by destroying objects and enemies as payment for some cool customisations. There are tonnes of options for upgrading your bike, such as changing the colour of the wheels, the flags and the cushions. It’s good encouragement to explore the more island thoroughly; if you find enough loot, you can design their precious bike exactly the way they like it.
Now, when it comes to actually riding the bikes, things can feel a bit wonky with the characters drifting in directions you didn’t send them in. But even this little thing makes the experience feel more authentic. Were you perfect at riding your bike when you were younger? No, didn’t think so.
Knights and Bikes excels in its uniqueness. The hand-drawn characters are adorable and detailed. Demelza and Nessa’s dialogue is sweet and funny. The world and story that the folks over at Foam Swords have created is equal parts exciting and inherently sad. The narrative covers difficult topics in a whimsical way that will have players at times on the verge of tears and laughing out loud only moments later. Whether you play alone or with a friend, Knights and Bikes is a sensational adventure game. Everything from its characters and its narrative to its art style and sound design is an absolute delight. It was a pleasure to play, and an experience I won’t soon forget.