If Medieval Times had an obstacle course, it would probably look a little something like this.
If they had American Gladiators in medieval times, chances are it would look something like KnightScape. The debut game from Virtual Intelligence’s Mojaro brand has you swiping your way though a dangerous obstacle course on your iOS device, stopping occasionally for some melee combat – just not against anyone named Nitro or Turbo. It’s an intriguing mix of elements that doesn’t quite come together to create an engrossing whole.
As Freddy the Peasant, you’ve got your sights set on proving you’ve got what it takes to be a knight. You’ve also got motivation in the form of Chloe the Princess, abducted by an evil armored figure while apparently in mid-text message. Rescuing her means running the gauntlet, but you know how that goes: Sorry, but our princess is at the end of another medieval maze.
Maneuvering through the courses is fairly straightforward. Freddy motors forward at a constant pace while spike traps, flames and other perils pop up in his path. You have to swipe or tap to switch lanes to avoid them, plus use properly timed swipes to duck under logs, climb ladders and pull off the occasional parkour wall-walking trick. Additional game mechanics, like tapping quickly on one side or the other to keep your balance on a narrow log, are introduced at a regular pace.
Every now and then, you’ll stop running to fight an enemy swordsman. Combat is similar to Infinity Blade, except turned sideways and drained of some of its nuances. Freddy can use his shield to block attacks or parry by timing the swing of his sword properly. That leaves a small window of vulnerability to exploit with either the short or long swings, though the icon that pops up after a successful defense doesn’t tell you which attack to use. Early in the game, simply beating the bad guys to the punch works just as effectively with much less thought required.
Both obstacles and enemy blades reduce your health, but making it to the end of a course in one piece makes you the proud owner of a score and any silver coins you picked up along the way. At least it does the second time through each level. For some reason that’s not entirely clear, you have to complete each stage once before your score counts and coins appear on the course. You can go back and replay past levels, a helpful tool to amass enough silver coins and premium gold coins to upgrade Freddy’s sword, shield, armor and helmet.
Unfortunately playing or replaying any of the courses uses one of your Extra Plays. You get 10 to start, but after those are gone, you’ll have to wait for them to regenerate at the rate of one every 15 minutes up to a maximum of three. It’s an understandable and legitimate tool to monetize the game, but I feel safe in speaking for many gamers when I say that I would rather pay a buck or three (your currency may vary) up front to dispense with this kind of constraint.
While Freddy’s time chasing down his princess may be reduced to short bursts, at least he looks good when he’s doing it. The 3D graphics are nice, and there are plenty of well-animated sequences, like the way Freddy goes skidding around corners or hurtling down off small cliffs only to tuck and roll upon landing. The setting as a whole is pretty generic though, with the story only coming in small doses heading into each level and during loading screens. A promised surprise later in the game (which I won’t spoil) doesn’t fix the lack of personality that leads up to it.
KnightScape ends up inhabiting a weird space where neither the course-running nor the combat really grab you on their own, yet they don’t necessarily combine like Voltron to kick butt either. There are a number of mobile games where you can see what the developers were trying for clearly enough to lament when they don’t make it there, and this feels like one of them.
- Blend of obstacle courses and swordplay is unique for a mobile action game. Introduces new mechanics as it progresses, ensuring there are some new challenges in each level. Well animated down to some of the small details.
- Setting and story feel thin. Combat is bland compared to other fantasy action games. Use of sparse Extra Plays feels like an especially cynical twist on freemium play.