Let me tell you a story…
It’s 1993. You dust off an old Gauntlet cartridge and proceed to spend a few weeks marvelling at its overhead style and bashing monsters with your big barbarian’s sword. After that, someone hands you a copy of Super Bomberman and a Super Multitap, a small plastic brick with four controller ports. Gathering together three of your buddies, you blow each other up with bombs while laughing yourselves silly.
Now jump back to the present. Chainsawesome’s Knight Squad, which was released earlier this week on the PC and Xbox One, perfectly fuses those two games into a medieval-themed party game that drops up to eight players into its single-screen arena at the same time.
If it had been released in 1993, Knight Squad would have gone down as one of gaming’s classics. It doesn’t have the same impact 22 years later, but it’s still a ridiculously enjoyable romp.
Platforms: PC, Xbox One (Version Played)
Publisher: Chainsawesome Games
Developer: Chainsawesome Games
Genre: (Gauntlet + Bomberman) x Knights
Release Date: November 16, 2015
ESRB Rating: Teen
The people at Chainsawsome weren’t shooting for originality when they developed Knight Squad, but the game is so well put together that it almost doesn’t matter. “Knight Squad is Super Bomberman crossed with Gauntlet” quite literally explains everything you need to know about it in a single sentence. Players will charge into battle against their friends/bitter rivals into a top-down arena full of medieval weaponry. Whether you have a sword or a crossbow or a laser pistol, a single attack button propels the action. Kill the other knights, and don’t get killed yourself… that’s really all there is to it.
Like Super Bomberman, Knight Squad lives and dies by its multiplayer, and selecting Local Game from the main menu gives players the option to choose from nine different versus modes. Some, like “Capture the Grail” and “Last Man Standing,” are free-for-alls where every player is out for themselves. Others, like “Soccer” and “Capture the Flag” are 4v4 competitions that require teamwork and quick thinking. There aren’t many differences between each mode, but they offer enough variety to keep the game fresh. And the sheer chaos of these battles will definitely keep party game fans coming back for more for a long time.
Out of the game’s nine modes, I think my favorites are “Capture the Grail,” “Gladiator,” and “Soccer,” each of which play up Knight Squad’s chaotic nature in their own way. “Capture the Grail” is a free-for-all mode that awards points for kills and capturing the Grail, so players are constantly joining a scrum in the center of the arena. “Gladiator” is another free-for-all mode that encourages players to stick to the center as bonus points are awarded for staying available in a starred portion of the arena. And “Soccer” is just fun because eight knights swinging swords and kicking a giant soccer ball has to be fun. It’s just scientific fact.
However, one of the areas in which Knight Squad falters is its limited number of single-player options. Bomberman always offered a Story Campaign that offered plenty of challenge in its own right. I’m actually surprised that Chainsawesome didn’t create some kind of quick and dirty Campaign by remixing the game’s various modes, maps, and difficulty levels into some kind of story. Yes, you can play by yourself against bots. And yes, there is a short (but enjoyable) single-player Challenge Mode where you battle boss monsters. But I still miss a dedicated Campaign.
But for players who can’t cram eight people around their living room TV, Knight Squad’s online multiplayer is still a bit shaky. It works well enough, but hit detection is dicey (arrows regularly fly through opposing knights) and dropped connections are common. That said, the online is still a blast as playing locally with eight players is just not an option for a lot of people. Flesh and blood opponents offer a feeling of unpredicatableness that bots can’t recreate, and while Chainsawsome hasn’t worked out all the glitches yet, Knight Squad’s online mode is still the same excellent party game about 90% of the time.
Knight Squad’s feature set also includes the bizarre Bots Showdown mode, which lets players watch eight bots battle it out by themselves. I still can’t figure out why this mode exists. Is it a coded admission that the folks at Chainsawesome are degenerate gamblers? If anything, Bots Showdown doesn’t go far enough as I would have loved an option to customize the difficulty level and strategy of individual bots.
Knight Squad is currently available for free through the Xbox One’s Games With Gold program until December 15 (Steam users will have to make do with a 33% discount), and I’d recommend that everyone with an Xbox Live Gold subscription should download it right away. If you’re even slightly interested in party games, it would be perfect for your next gathering. And if you’re a big fan of Super Bomberman, I’d say it’s practically a must own.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I badly need to get back to playing Knight Squad.
Review Disclosure: A review copy of Knight Squad was provided by Chainsawsome Games for the purposes of this review.