Knights and Bikes is a release that took me by surprise due to the lack of publicity surrounding the title. With the game being developed by some former Media Molecule staff as the newly formed Foam Sword and published by Double Fine, my expectations were high. It’s a title that’s surprisingly inspired by Secret of Mana and The Goonies in terms of mechanics and themes respectively. Along with a focus on co-op, Knights and Bikes is the perfect kind of game to play with a good friend. Sadly for me, I played the game solo, but managed to get by just fine.
At its core, the narrative of Knights and Bikes is a coming-of-age story with a heavy focus on friendship. The two protagonists, Nessa and Demelza are on a journey that often blurs the line between reality and imagination. Things start off pretty normally, but then quickly get strange when an evil curse is unleashed on Penfurzy Island. Thematically, the story skillfully juxtaposes the joy and innocence of youth with the harsh realities of adulthood, while also coming off as lighthearted and quirky most of the time with the duo’s colorful dialogue.
Often times, the game spends time unraveling Nessa and Demelza’s concerns and issues. The characters have personal problems that they have trouble overcoming alone. However, there’s plenty of fun and comedic dialogue that brightens up the experience and adds a sense of unity between the two characters as they work out their differences. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast was mostly forgettable besides a handful of characters especially the supreme goose, Captain Honkers. Beyond the story, the developers did a fine job integrating cooperation and playful competition into the mechanics.
With regard to the gameplay, Knights and Bikes throws in low stakes, friendly contests alongside synergy based combat and cooperative puzzle-solving. The game feels like it was meant for two players, but a single player can easily get by with the AI partner at their side. However, an issue with a single player run is that there is simply no real reason to be invested when playing against the computer in those friendly competitions as the outcomes hardly change. Also, the player can change characters on the fly to rig the results in their favor. Nessa and Demelza get separate weapons that work well together for defeating enemies as well as solving the occasional puzzle. Without a doubt, Knights and Bikes is a title best played with a partner as the design of the entire game seems to revolve around cooperation.
In terms of length, the adventure took around nine hours to finish. For the most part, it was consistently interesting seeing the duo work together as the story slowly unraveled. The game distributed the weapons in an even pace, which worked well in introducing new mechanics to the level design. Along with weapons, the game has upgradeable bikes that make traveling an easier experience, but even by the end, controlling the bike still somewhat felt like a chore. Even running felt a bit tedious and annoying as it requires the player to hold down the run button, resulting in the player character yelling in a particularly annoying manner while dashing somewhat slowly.
Knights and Bikes is an unique and genuine experience that was engaging from beginning to end. It’s a great example of a high quality co-op game. Thematically and mechanically, the game succeeds in highlighting cooperation. Foam Sword successfully delivers a great title that manages to be both fun and artistically inventive. Knights and Bikes is highly recommended for those looking for a captivating cooperative game to play with a friend.