Knights & Bikes

Imag­i­na­tion rides wild in this ‘80s-in­spired co-op adventure


When you’re a small-town kid, the great­est weapon you can wield is your imag­i­na­tion. If there’s a boring job that needs to be done, you can fancy it an epic adventure: de­liv­er­ing a let­ter be­comes a mis­sion to trans­port a se­cret code, and track­ing down a neigh­bour a hunt for a rare crea­ture. In Knights & Bikes, two friends em­bark upon a dangerous and mag­i­cal jour­ney through dun­geons and cas­tles on the fic­ti­tious, sleepy Cor­nish is­land of Pen­furzy.

Yet to the diminu­tive Demelza and her new pal, Nessa, this quaint tourist get­away is a huge bat­tle­ground. They see ev­ery­thing dif­fer­ently. Bits of lint, peb­bles and worms are pre­cious trea­sures to be hoarded. Grumpy adults have been pos­sessed by malev­o­lent spir­its. And their bikes, nat­u­rally, are mag­nif­i­cent steeds. Pen­furzy is in dire straits, with one of its fa­mous myths ex­posed as fake. And so the girls set out to un­cover the truth and save their home from cer­tain ob­scu­rity.

As you might ex­pect from the minds be­hind such games as Tear­away and Lit­tleBigPlanet, sim­ply noodling about the hand-painted world of Knights & Bikes is a ki­netic de­light. Tap a but­ton, and our char­ac­ter ped­als their pride and joy forward. Stop, and mo­men­tum takes over: Nessa stands tall and con­fi­dent on the ped­als, while Demelza splays out her legs, grin­ning goofily. A pretty flag flut­ters be­hind Nessa’s pas­tel-pink ride. If it seems out of place for her tomboy­ish char­ac­ter, it’s meant to – it’s mo­ti­va­tion, we’re told, to up­grade and re­dec­o­rate it as the game goes on.

In young minds, a junk­yard be­comes a well­guarded keep that must be raided for trea­sure, over­laid with imag­i­nary scrib­bles of de­tail. A bat­tered chain­link fence is topped with para­pets, while ir­ri­ta­ble crabs tout war­rior ar­mour. Sneak­ing in through a gap in the fence, how­ever, means leav­ing our bikes be­hind for a lit­tle while. A puzzle in­volv­ing a crane and an elec­tro­mag­net – sorry, a help­ful wiz­ard in his tower – al­lows us to lift our bikes into the junk­yard. Once we’re back in the sad­dle, one of the girls sug­gests a race. Last one to the next ob­jec­tive is a rot­ten egg, es­sen­tially, which leads to a glo­ri­ously com­pet­i­tive ride as we avoid mud pud­dles and hold the pedal but­ton to risk a boost around a tricky cor­ner. We place sec­ond by inches – we’re rac­ing against de­vel­oper Rex Crowle, in fair­ness – and so Crowle wins the fun job of pulling the lever and play­ing with the next big mag­net, but he’s will­ing to let us have a go in­stead. There’s a won­der­ful ef­fect to the op­tion be­ing left open, not sim­ply re­stricted to the victor: we counter that Crowle won fair and square, so he should go ahead. It’s a charm­ing mo­ment of real com­mu­ni­ca­tion that re­minds us of child­hood days spent mak­ing up rules for games, learn­ing to share, em­pathise and rea­son through play. But there’s a dis­ap­point­ing lack of things to do, some­times, while your co-op pal com­pletes a puzzle. Crowle as­sures us that he and co-cre­ator Moo Yu are work­ing on ways to keep both play­ers con­stantly en­gaged.

For­tu­nately, there’s no such trou­ble in com­bat. In­deed, our fight against a boss is de­fined by the need for con­stant team­work. We find that we’re not switch­ing to our fris­bee weapon much: this en­emy cre­ates mul­ti­ple fires, re­strict­ing space, so we favour Nessa’s wa­ter bal­loons. A direct hit to an at­tacker does dam­age, but Demelza can also use her wellies to stomp in pud­dles for a fol­low-up area-of-ef­fect at­tack. Soon, we send our foe into the maw of a hun­gry dragon (read: trash com­pactor), and the ‘trea­sure’ is ours. The dif­fi­culty will be in con­vinc­ing the grown-ups that what­ever this bun­dle of junk is is worth up­grad­ing our tyres. But if our demo of Knights & Bikes proves any­thing, it’s that a hefty dose of imag­i­na­tion can transform some­thing or­di­nary into some­thing to be cher­ished.

It re­minds us of child­hood days spent mak­ing up games, learn­ing to share through play

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