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