There’s no shortage of debate when it comes to the medium of gaming, but even the most devout contrarian would have a hard time proving a lack of variety. From narrative-heavy indies to highly technical role-playing games, there really are video games for just about everyone. Now, at a time when developers seem to be pushing the boundaries of interactive entertainment, it can be illuminating to go back to our hobby’s simple roots. Sometimes all you crave is a bit of chaotic fun, a teeny taste of the coin-munching anarchy that used to make arcades such popular venues. Fear not, Xbox One owners: Knight Squad will satisfy that hunger.
Easily identifiable elements borrowed from old-school action titles like Gauntlet and Bomberman set the tone for your time here. The moment you see that top-down view, you know what you’re in for: fast-paced, party-style arcade fun. Across a number of game types, you play as one of eight colored knights and battle for supremacy against seven others — who can be CPU-controlled, local players or online competitors depending on the mode you choose.
There’s a ton of variety across the different game types — in fact, the only real common denominator is your ability to defeat rivals using sword attacks or randomly-appearing items. Beyond that, anything goes: you can play solo or as a team in one of two capture-the-flag modes; use your sword to knock a ball around in “Soccer”; grab drill items to obliterate the opposition’s crystals in “Crystal Rush”; or, if you’re in the mood for something really simple, just go for all-out battle in Team Deathmatch. In total, there are 13 different ways to play — and each of these modes come with a handful of maps for additional variation. If you’re opting for AI-controlled opponents, you’ve also got a range of difficulty settings to even the playing field based on your skill.
As you might expect, most of the fun in Knight Squad comes from the pure chaos of eight players running around trying to kill each other. Of course, there’s some skill involved, but dying and losing are all part of the fun; deep mechanics and complex strategies need not apply here. It’s the sort of game that’s best played with other people in the room, laughing at the absurdity of the action. There’s about as low a learning curve as you can get for a game with traditional non-motion controls, so even people who don’t normally game can get in on the fun.
If you’re thinking about going it alone, you’re going to have to gauge your enjoyment for fighting the computer. The game was clearly created with multiplayer action in mind, and battling bots can come off as a bit stale by comparison. There are a handful of “challenge” modes specifically created for those going it solo, but these are pretty bare-bones affairs that don’t offer the same replay value as the main modes: instead of eight-player chaos, you’ve got comparatively tame objectives like defeating four giant worms (in a battle that cribs the Moldorm enemy from The Legend of Zelda).
Beyond that, the challenges are also sort of confused from a design perspective — though technically unrelated to each other, you need to beat each mode to unlock the one after it. That means having content locked away if you get stuck on a difficult task, which is more likely than you think (those worms are a pain). And let’s face it, in 2015 there is little excuse for not having some sort of quick-restart option when you die; facing a 10-second load time after every failure may not sound like a lot, but it really wears down your desire to bother with the challenges at all.
As far as the presentation goes, you’re unlikely to be wowed by any of the aesthetic choices on display here. The visuals bring to mind the sort of time-wasting Flash games you play online, although credit must be given to the outrageously goofy knight designs — as one endearing example, the multi-colored Sparkles emits a rainbow every time he dies. On the audio side of things, there’s a pretty interesting mix of standard “epic fantasy” themes and, of all things, EDM. The music sort of fades into the background with all the sound effects, which are suitably wacky for the craziness going on, and Gauntlet fans will dig the deep-voiced announcement of game happenings (“Smash takes the lead!”).
Knight Squad is a colorful burst of anarchic action best suited for local multiplayer, when you can crack up at the outrageously-paced action alongside some friends. Going it solo is not advised unless you’re a fan of taking on AI-controlled opponents, as the single-player challenges lack depth and feel half-baked. Still, the arcade energy of the main modes — which include 13 different ways to play — should be more than enough for those who can round up a few buddies once in a while.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided with.
If you're looking for pure arcade action that's a blast to play locally, Knight Squad is worth checking out. There's a ton of modes to keep things varied, and the chaotic pace is perfect for party play.