“Truly Wonderful the Mind of a Child Is.”
As I get older, I start to fully realize how simple life was as a child. I didn’t have a job, I didn’t have bills, I didn’t have loans; all I had was time to kill and my imagination as the main tool to do it with. I had no idea that my parents had all of those pressures to deal with- all I knew was that the neighbors were having a lightsaber battle outside and I was willing to leave half of my lunch uneaten to make sure I was in it. While most of me loves being an adult and all the perks that come with it, part of me wishes I could go back to the time where my biggest problem was needing to be in bed by 8:30. I have a strong feeling that I am not alone in this mindset. While playing Knights and Bikes, a game by Foam Sword Games, I had a strong resurgence of these feelings in the best way possible.
Knights and Bikes takes place on the fictional island of Penfurzy in the not-so-fictional decade of the 80’s. On this island, among a plethora of odd and lively citizens, lives Demelza (Melza for short): a young, spirited, adorable, red-curly-haired child overflowing with imagination and want for adventure. Melza lives with her father, a recent widower struggling to cope with the loss of his wife, the ever-increasing financial stress, and trying to reel in his constantly exploring daughter. On their little plot of land, they have a rundown golf course, a tiny park, a couple trailer houses, and a gaggle of geese. Times are tough for this family, but Melza and her father are staying afloat one day at a time.
After a while, one day turns particularly interesting for Melza, who suddenly gains the companionship of a young girl, Nessa, who stowed away on a boat from one of the neighboring cities. Nessa is nearly the polar opposite of Melza: she wears torn clothes, has short hair, and paints her nails black- but she still has the same sense of adventure. While exploring the golf course, Demelza explains to Nessa the local folklore of the Knights of Penfurzy and their treasure that is supposedly hidden on the island. After exploring some “secret caverns,” the girls discover a backhoe digging in their property, only to witness it release what they believe to be a curse upon the island and all of its inhabitants. Armed with a pair of rain boots, some frisbees, and a bike, Melza and Nessa start their journey to save the island from being destroyed by the evil spirits of olden legend.
Knights and Bikes, at heart, is an action-adventure game based around playing as the two main girls. You, and either a Co-Op companion or an AI counterpart, play as both Melza and Nessa, each with their own special abilities. Melza starts off with her rain boots that she can use to kick water at enemies or ground pound and summon worms with. Nessa, in great contrast, uses more distance-based projectile attacks with her frisbees. As the story progresses, a couple of new items/weapons are unlocked, adding different attack styles into the mix. The enemies you are fighting, such as golf balls turned into vicious rodents or foam swords that leave flaming trails, are great fun to fight and offer some satisfying button mashing! None of the enemies are particularly challenging, and usually depend on “strength in numbers” for difficulty, but that is not something that I minded at all.
When you aren’t fighting the different possessed items on the island, you will be exploring ancient castles, abandoned junkyards, and a few forests here and there. While there aren’t many traditional Zelda-esque dungeons, there are certainly puzzles and obstacles in the way of your progression. Most of these involve aiming a plunger-hookshot correctly, stepping on platforms in the proper order, or putting out fires to find new paths and alternate routes. None are particularly difficult, and if you are playing with an AI, they will most likely solve the puzzle for you before you get stuck too long. None of this is to say the puzzles aren’t fun, because they most certainly are; but don’t go in expecting to be mentally challenged.
As you travel and explore the island, you are most likely riding your customizable bikes across the island in search of the next clue for the hidden treasure. I put emphasis on customizable, because that is such a fun part of the experience. As you defeat the evil enemies, innocent pots and baskets, or hidden stash boxes, you find dropped currency in the form of stickers, bread-bag clips, dead bugs, and the occasional shiny rock. With all of this glorious “loot,” you can upgrade and decorate both Melza and Nessa’s bikes with all sorts of colors, bells, air horns, baskets, or even wheel decorations. I really found it hilarious and charming that the game actually doesn’t show you a monetary or tangible quantity of all the treasure you own, and has you plop down the entirety of your collection in front of the bike shop owner- just like a child would!
Keeping up with this charm is the level of detail in every aspect of the game’s presentation. Firstly, and most impressively, are the absolutely fantastic visuals. Rather than opting for a simple or derivative art style that would have been easy, the developers decided to make the game look like it is straight from a child’s art book. Traversing through Penfurzy with the girls and the amazingly charming and helpful goose, Captain Honkers, is an absolute joy. Characters are very geometric, with odd and unique curves and shapes to their faces. The backgrounds are colorful, simple, jagged, and incredibly imaginative. I love when a game puts a smile on my face, and I certainly held one during most of my 9 hours of the story!
Just as charming as the phenomenal character design is the sound design. I particularly loved the sound of the text crossing the screen, and the other sound effects were just as cute. Everything from the little girls joyful cheering and laughing, to the peaceful ambient sound of the wind, all the way to the comical constant honking of Captain Honkers made me feel just plain happy inside! If I had one complaint about Knights and Bikes, it is the unfortunate limited use of music. I say that because the music, when used, is so good. Varying from dark synthesizers, 80s rock’n’roll, and kazoos backed with drums, the soundtrack just complements the goofy and varied tone that the rest of the game carries. I get what the developers were going for, the minimalist style (similar to Breath of the Wild) to focus on nature and other sounds, but I really would have loved some music playing in the background during the longer travel times.
Really, the thing I loved the most about Knights and Bikes was the attention to detail and charm put into making it a childlike adventure. This is not a game that is meant to be played for a challenge, but as a reflection on the joys of childhood. From the father’s adult perspective, the story progression can be somber and bittersweet; from the girls’ perspectives, everything is filled to the brim with potential, optimism, and creativity. To me, this struck a chord deep inside that not many games (or any media, really) often do. It’s a reminder to not give up, to not lose the sense of wonder, to not stop taking joy in the little things. If we do stop , like Demelza’s father almost did, we run the risk of missing out on some of life’s greatest adventures.
Yes, if you:
- Want a fun game to play Co-Op with someone else
- Love games and stories about childlike adventures
- Appreciate creative, unique artstyles
No, if you:
- Want a game with deep RPG elements and character upgrades
- Hate the 80’s and stories of that era
Knights and Bikes released August 27th, 2019 and is available on PC (reviewed) and PS4.
Note: Cannonicity received a copy of Knights and Bikes in exchange for a fair and honest review.