As the conclusion to LCB Game Studio’s Pixel Pulps visual novel trilogy, Bahnsen Knights was not what I initially expected. The first game, Mothmen 1966, was about aliens and cryptids, the second was about vampires and this last entry is about… a car-based cult? It sounds like a bit of a step away from the supernatural.
But Bahnsen Knights had me hooked, despite not shoving aliens or cryptids in my face. Instead, it leaves you to dwell on just why the US is plagued by tornados, to the point that a cult has sprung up to ‘exorcise’ them. Are the Bahnsen Knights delusional? Or is there something deeply wrong with the world? The game doesn’t answer that question, preferring instead to keep you guessing.
Your mission in Bahnsen Knights is much more personal. As an undercover agent by the name of Boulder, you’re tasked with uncovering the cult’s activities after the disappearance of your FBI partner. As with previous games, the CGA graphics add to the atmosphere, but what really makes this so unsettling is the writing, with characters who are just over-the-top enough that they’re menacing without ever becoming pantomime villains. To help dial up your unease, there’s a bar that shows just how suspicious of you they are.
Since you’re taking to the road there are driving sections to tackle. While they make sense thematically, they were my least favourite part of the game. Some of the mini-games are a delight, but here you’re controlling your car by issuing “move or right” instructions. So when you get a warning that a car’s coming down a lane, you have to arrow down to move right, select it, repeat for when the next car is coming and so on. Fail and Boulder is dead. Those are the only parts of the game where frustration kicked in.
A more welcome mechanic is the way you use a Tarot card style system to pass information to your handlers. It doesn’t go full-on Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood, but it’s a fun way to flesh out the gameplay. There’s also a new Solitaire variant you can play, but the rules made my brain hurt, so I skipped over it.
Speaking of fleshing things out (insert your own filthy joke here), while Boulder’s story is at the core of things, I loved hearing the barman’s grim little tales. They’re entirely optional, but I’d happily play a Pixel Pulp centred around any of those tales. Given how well the original trilogy has been received, it wouldn’t surprise me if LCB announced Pixel Pulps Volume 2.
The lack of overtly supernatural elements only makes Bahnsen Knights’ story more unsettling and, knee-deep in the cult, you’re witness to some very human acts of violence. Throw in a smattering of detective work with a soundtrack that’s as eerily retro as Bahnsen Knights’ graphics, and you’ve got a treat for visual novel fans.
You can finish the game in two to three hours, but it’s just the right length for this slice of suspense (and the game’s £8.49/$9.99 price tag). Engaging and shocking in equal measure, Bahnsen Knights is a wild ride you won’t regret taking.