There’s a certain magic to be found in growing up that can never be replicated. Imaginations run wild, and it often feels like anything, no matter how unrealistic, is possible. As you age, though, the magic slowly gets drained from your life until every day feels like a chore to get through. As you can tell, I’m doing fine these days. However, there are definitely days where I wish I could turn back time. That’s not possible, but Knights and Bikes might be just as good a solution.
Inspired by The Goonies, Knights and Bikes is a classic tale of fortune and peril. Stuck on the island of Penfurzy with her father, Demelza is craving an adventure. With almost no other children on the rock, though, she is often alone in her own world. That all changes one night, though, when stowaway Nessa arrives on a supply ship. After an antagonistic start, the two form a fast friendship. It doesn’t hurt that, despite having different motives, they are both after the same thing — a legendary treasure apparently hidden on the island. They’ll need to work together in order to succeed in their journey, though.
Like the best stories involving children, the title manages to strike a perfect balance between whimsy and melancholy. The adventure Demelza and Nessa go on is incredibly silly and childish at points. Even considering how high the stakes are, the tone is mostly comedic. I mean, the third member of the team is a goose named Captain Honkers, just so you know. However, there’s also a constant streak of sadness running underneath the fun times. Demelza is clearly a good kid, but she’s going through a lot. Her mom is gone, her dad is preoccupied trying to keep their home, and she has been ostracized from other kids. She needs this adventure. The same can be said for Nessa, even if her story is a little more ambiguous. That eventually gets cleared up, but since I’m trying to avoid spoilers, I’ll just say I was satisfied with it. It’s an engaging and surprisingly emotional story that I really wasn’t expecting coming into the game.
Considering the two budding adventurers at the heart of the tale, it’s not a surprise that Knights and Bikes was designed as a co-op experience. With Penfurzy getting overrun with an ancient curse, the dynamic duo will need to fend off an assorted group of baddies. Since they are children, though, their weapon choices aren’t exactly lethal. Demelza starts by just being able to kick enemies, while Nessa’s first attack involves throwing a frisbee. As the adventure goes on, though, each one acquires unique skills that often need to be used in tandem. While you can run through the campaign solo, it definitely makes more to sense to bring a friend along.
Having a buddy by your side also helps mitigate some of the tediousness that eventually seeps in. Even considering the new skills both Nessa and Demelza receive, the combat never gets particularly deep. It’s more or less a button mashing beat ’em up from start to finish, and although I am a fan of the genre, there were definitely times where I got bored with the action. Without totally changing the game, though, I’m not sure exactly what could have been done to spice things up. Some additional enemy types might have helped, but even then, I’m not positive it would have. For better or worse, it’s simplistic by design.
Knights and Bikes fares better when you are outside of combat, thankfully. Exploring the island of Penfurzy is simply delightful — the run-down locale has tons of character. Its residents are enjoyable to talk to, and they often advance the plot in interesting ways — each one is worth seeking out. Even if the island was deserted, though, just searching for secrets would be fun enough. Riding around on your bike with the Captain in tow is a fun way to spend a few hours. I do wish there was more to do with the gold nuggets you collect. Personalizing your bikes is a nice touch, but there are only so many ways to do so before you just want to move on.
The look and feel are clearly inspired by Tearaway, but that’s far from a bad thing. The paper cut-out style is charming as heck and it fits the pseudo-fantasy tone of the game rather well. The character design is equally cute. Demelza and Nessa both are brimming with personality just from their looks and gestures alone. The other inhabitants are well designed too, even if they don’t stick around for too long. The hand-painted look does wonders for the world’s design and really gives it that “small town” feel that’s so crucial. The only issue I have is that every so often, objects in the foreground obscure what you are trying to do. It can make exploring smaller areas almost impossible.
Developer Foam Sword really surprised me with their charming debut effort. Knights and Bikes is an excellently crafted adventure that will make you laugh and reminisce in equal doses. It’s the exact type of story I like seeing in a family-friendly title — one that showcases all of the facets of growing up, both good and bad. Sure, the combat may not be up to snuff, but as long as you have someone along for the ride, it’s easy to look past that. With treasure to be found and a world to be explored, Knights and Bikes is a perfect, low-key way to end the summer.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game. A copy was provided by Double Fine.
With a whimsical, delightful story that isn't afraid to get emotional, Knights and Bikes is a charming adventure that is perfect to tackle with a good friend.