Saturday, 10 January 2015
GROW: Knight Games
Developer: English Software
Publisher: English Software (later Mastertronic)
Systems: C64 (reviewed), Amstrad, DOS (CGA/EGA)
Knights in shining armour, damsels in distress, chivalry, quests, kingdoms.... all the things we have seen a million times in gaming. From Dragon's Lair to Skyrim, the trappings of the middle ages, with the immediacy of pre-fire powder weaponry and a world in which danger lurked around every corner, the dark ages call to us even today, enticing us to dream of adventure and danger, fame and fortune!
Of course the reality of the medieval knights life was a bit less swashbuckling and a bit more mundane. It was mostly posturing, killing peasants that dared to rise up and the rules of chivalry gave great leeway for sacking, pillaging and raping. So how would one show off as a real knight? Why with tournament shows of skill!
This brings us to today's gem from years gone by: Knight Games. Coded and designed by John Williams, with graphics by Colin Brown, it brought the expositional martial arts of medieval knights to our 8 bit computer screens. At a time when sports games were all the rage, Knight Games added an innovative twist to the genre.
There are eight events (even though two of them are basically what Ryu was to Ken, simple graphical remixes of one another). There are five weapon based one-on-one contests: Swords (twice), Quarterstaffs, Ball and Chain (no... you don't club each other with your spouses... ZING! Ok... that joke was just horrible, I'm sorry), Axes and Pikes, in addition to two shooting galleries, once with long bows and once with crossbows.
The one-on-one contests are great two player fun, with a myriad of offensive and defensive moves available through a combination of the eight directional points of the joystick (horizontals are defensive moves, up, down, left and right are offensive) and the fire button activates walking. An at first awkward choice from a modern standpoint but at the time a very unique solution that gave the action a feeling of immediacy through translating movement into combat as opposed to the pressing of a button. The moves at times seem slow and plodding, but given that you are wearing full plate in all but the quarterstaff event, this seems perfectly legitimate and appropriate.
The shooting galleries involve multiple moving targets, with reloading times and wind factors coming into play. Nothing spectacular, but still good fun when competing against human opponents.
The graphics are quite stunning, especially for 1986, even if the backgrounds are stationary. They do invoke a rather epic feel. Considering this was released the same year as Defender of the Crown, it truly can hold its own on a tiny little C64.
While it does feel a bit slow today, it remains a unique experience. No magical special moves, no wild jumps through the air. Knight Games gives us medieval one-on-one combat like it never existed before, or since on home computers. (the closest comprison I can draw is Square's PSX classic Bushido Blader) If you have a buddy, plug in some old one button joysticks and have a few rounds. I guarantee you'll have fun and wonder just how much brain damage a quarterstaff to the noggin' really would do.