Platforms: PC (reviewed), PlayStation 4
Developed by Foam Sword, Knights and Bikes is a two player co-operative isometric adventure game that follows the adventures of Nessa and Demelza, two tween girls who share bike rides and multi-colored combat in a world that looks like a children’s picture book come to life.
Knights and Bikes is set on the fictional Penfurzy Island of the 1980s. It’s inspired by Cornwall, in the southwest tip of England, the childhood home of Rex Crowle, one of Foam Sword’s creative leads. You can feel the love Crowle has for Cornwall - the whole game feels like a sweet homage.
The game follows the exploits of Demelza, the sheltered daughter of a down-on-his-luck, widowed owner of a miniature golf course, and Nessa, a street smart homeless drifter. They become friends, uncover an ancient curse, and search for buried treasure to save her father’s business.
The story reminded me a bit of The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit; it isn’t clear how much of the action is simply a result of the girls’ fantastical imaginations and how much is actually happening. The game draws the girls’ fanciful imaginings over the already-vibrant environment. A scrap crusher becomes a dragon that eats metal and poops out cubes. A chain link fence becomes a castle battlement with arrow slits.
KaB centers around puzzle solving, exploration, and light combat. It’s simple and fun. Both girls get snazzy little bikes that let them zip around the island. Mash A to pedal, and, when you get the appropriate upgrades, you can charge up a dash and bike through deep mud. You can also customize the cosmetics of your bike, going as Hot Topic or She-Ra as you want.
This isometric game’s action is inspired by Secret of Mana and Earthbound, but it lacks RPG progression. No matter - it’s not that kind of game. Nessa and Demelza still get funky and fun weapons like wellies (galoshes, to us Americans), frisbees, water balloons, and toilet plungers. You can spam your attack button for fast attacks or charge up a more powerful attack that strikes a larger area.
You also get a roll and a dash to keep movement interesting both in and out of combat, but I wish there was a way to deactivate the airplane sounds that the girls make while running - it gets grating after the first few minutes.
This game was designed for two players. It’s clear that the manic combat and bike rides would be more fun with a friend beside you. I didn’t get a chance to try it that way, but it works just fine as a single player experience. You can switch between characters using shoulder buttons at any time, and the AI takes over whichever character you aren’t playing.
This makes attack combos hard to pull off, but this isn’t Marvel Ultimate Alliance; well-executed combos aren’t essential to success. But when you manage them, they are fun. Nessa can charge up a huge water balloon, and Demelza can stomp on it, dealing splash damage. It’s exactly the kind of stupid fun you got into when you were a kid.
Healing is handled with high fives. You can call for a high five and the other player / AI will oblige you. If you have enough band-aids, you’ll heal all your damage - one band-aid for each wound. There’s no way to heal half your damage and save your band-aids, but this isn’t a JRPG; you don’t have to preserve your resources for a future battle.
Knights and Bikes isn’t super deep. Its story and mechanics aren’t challenging, but they’re safe enough to play with your grade school aged kids. It does touch on reality - Nessa is homeless, and Demelza’s mother passed away not long ago - but it does so in a way that can create teachable moments rather than tears.
If you’re looking for a serious analysis of childhood and loss of innocence, this isn’t the game for you. That’s okay; the Life Is Strange franchise is down the hall, holding a tissue box. Pedal fast enough in Knights and Bikes, and the wind will dry your tears.