In what may be viewed as heresy I wasn’t the biggest fan of Breath of the Wild. I could appreciate the scope and ambition of its design, and the shift to a freedom of exploration but it did not scratch the Zelda dungeon itch that I was feeling and left me wanting to go back and replay the earlier games. Now that I’ve probably alienated most readers, I’m happy to say that A Knight’s Quest unashamedly takes its influence from the Golden Age of Zelda, from the N64 to the Gamecube, sharing as it does the series DNA of dungeon exploration and a world that opens up as you gain new objects and abilities. While it may not have the immaculate polish of Nintendo’s series, it has a charm and feel all of its own that makes it well worth checking out.
You play as Rusty, an enthusiastic but somewhat clumsy adventurer with a metal prosthetic arm. At the game’s beginning you are investigating a ruin and come across an irresistible chest containing unknown treasure. Upon opening the chest you accidentally release an ancient evil that threatens not only Rusty’s life but the world itself. So, a usual weekend hike really.
The clumsiness of Rusty adds a certain charm that gives A Knight’s Quest an extra level of character. Far from the iconic hero, Rusty begins as a bit of a laughing stock. This obviously sets the scene for a predictable, but satisfying, character arc of personal development. The ways in which Rusty’s enthusiasm becomes more defined and heroic as the game progresses are well written and he remains a likeable hero. That being said, the character design of Rusty (and the human characters more generally) is a little ugly and not to the standards of the rest of the game. This is presumably a deliberate artstyle choice but not one I liked.
In general, the cartoony aesthetic within A Knight’s Quest works really well. Enabling an indie team to create a beautiful world without having to worry about finer textural details is clearly a good choice, and some of the settings are genuinely breathtaking. This does make the less successful aspects, such as the aforementioned character models, stand out but the overall effect is really good. Music is also pretty engaging, and combat sound effects are suitably weighty. The user interface is simple but effective and it avoids the common issue of too much information being onscreen.
Progression through the world of A Knight’s Quest involves finding shrines and trial locations (another Zelda influence) but the shrines are far more like oldschool dungeons than the mini-puzzles of Breath of the Wild. These are well designed and enjoyable but do lack an internal map which can be a little frustrating when it comes to some of the more elaborate examples. One dungeon in the middle of the game involved using the newly-found Ice Hammer to freeze jets of water and was up there with some of the more memorable examples from classic Zelda games.
Rusty sets out to collect the three divine weapons that are wielded by the Spirit Knights of legend. The game’s tone is far more comic than that clichéd description suggests though, as the Knights are far from the heroic figures that you might think. This undercutting of traditional fantasy tropes helps to give the game a refreshingly irreverent feel, although a few of the jokes are cruder than the look of the game might indicate. At one point you can find a monster magazine with its pages stuck together, something that would raise awkward questions from a younger player.
Exploring the game’s world feels more involved than some other Zelda-likes. There is a lot of platforming action here and the end result is almost like a fusion of Zelda and the classic Rare adventure platformers. Jumping is mostly pretty responsive but there are a few instances where the controls didn’t quite fit the precision needed. Most of the time this was in optional challenges so this isn’t a dealbreaker but could lead to some frustration. Equally, some of the speed challenges also required particular abilities so it is annoying that you don’t know this upfront and waste some time attempting them. Following the example of the Lego games would have prevented this, as the NPC could easily restrict access until the relevant powers are unlocked.
Combat in A Knight’s Tale is surprisingly challenging at times. The three weapons you unlock have very different feels and each is linked to an elemental magic. The wind sword and shield is the most Zelda-like and offers a good balance of speed and power, whilst the speedy fire gauntlets and slow but powerful ice hammer complete your armour. You may well choose a favourite but the enemies are often shielded by a specific element so you have to change on the fly to beat them. This can make things pretty fraught and offers a welcome level of difficulty.
During our review time we did run into a few technical issues, including a nasty bug that wiped a late-game save, but it seems as though Sky 9 Games have fixed many of the problems with a couple of early patches, and that they’re actively continuing to work on the game after release which is always gratifying. It still isn’t a completely polished experience in the same way that something from the Big N would be, but it’s a lovely and well put together indie game.