Knights And Bikes effortlessly inviting experience that’ll make you feel young again
Knights & Bikes was created by a small team featuring several people who worked on LittleBigPlanet and Tearaway, and you can feel that all these games share a similar creative vision. There’s a kind of wide-eyed, rough and tumble spirit of adventure running through all three games that is hard to resist. Knights & Bikes is a wonderfully warm, effortlessly inviting experience that’ll make you feel young again. Knights & Bikes channels this familiar childhood experience in a knock-about co-operative (but you can still play it solo) adventure that remains endlessly charming even when its core mechanics don’t join in the fun. Nessa is a stowaway on a boat that’s just docked at the holiday island home of Demelza. Quickly, the two girls meet and, in that way only children can do, become firm friends almost instantly. Nessa is slightly older and seemingly orphaned; Demelza lives in the island’s caravan park run by her single dad, who is struggling to keep the business afloat. The pair seize the opportunity to escape into each other’s imaginations, setting off on a grand adventure to recover the island’s legendary buried treasure and, Demelza hopes, use it to reverse her father’s financial misfortune.
Early on Nessa and Demelza procure the eponymous bikes which allow them to zip around the island much faster than on foot. The bikes can be upgraded, too, with all kinds of handlebar grips, paint jobs, spoke decorations, and so on. All of these are purely cosmetic, save for one–a particular set of wheels that lets the girls traverse pools of mud that would otherwise be blocking their progress. Cycling around the island is hugely entertaining in itself, not because it’s especially interesting to navigate the many crisscrossing paths connecting the handful of major points of interest, but because the presentation does such a great job of capturing the carefree abandon these girls are feeling. You mash to pedal and build up momentum then hold down the button for a short burst of extra speed, all the while the girls are hooting and howling and, it must be said, not necessarily obeying strict road safety procedures. Their adventure takes them from the caravan park to a mini golf course that doubles as the site of some historical battle to a maze-like scrapyard that transforms into a terrifying dungeon with seemingly no way out; to a hiking trail through the woods that twists and turns back in on itself in the manner of other more famous Lost Woods. Every step of the way the girls imbue the world with unwarranted but understandable wonder. The history book the local librarian is reading is obviously full of clues to the whereabouts of the treasure. That old man with a beard is very probably a wizard. And, clearly, every stroke of misfortune they encounter is a sign of the horrible curse afflicting the island.
It’s all great fun. The (probably) consensual hallucinations of the two girls are for the most part light and breezy and carry them headlong into one thrilling scrape after another. Their humour is infectious and their bonds of friendship, forged so fast in the fire of fantasy, are never in doubt. They’re both such superbly written characters, flinging one-liners at each other and building upon the other’s latest witty invention. And they’re vividly expressive, each new close-up of their comically contorted faces frozen in shock, disgust, awe or sly realization will never fail to bring a smile to your lips. Where Knights & Bikes falters is in the moment to moment, the rote combat and light puzzling that knits together its seat-of-the-pants dash through childhood curiosity. Each girl finds three pieces of gear over the course of the game and these are used to both fend off enemies and negotiate numerous environmental puzzles. Nessa’s water bombs, for example, can be thrown to deal damage to enemies, extinguish fires (and do extra damage to fire-based enemies) and, when splatted into a puddle on the ground, conduct electricity.
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