It’s October, and fall’s underway! This is my favorite time of the year, and October is when I officially call it a day and start hibernating until around March or April. The weather takes a turn for the worse, and it only gets worse as we get into winter. Staying indoors all weekend is now something I can do without feeling guilty, and, since I’m stuck lounging around the house, why not play a few video games? Well, that’s exactly what I’m going to do! But I wanted to do something a little different to celebrate the turning of the seasons. Considering it’s October, it’s obvious as to what theme I should focus on. October’s been home to a very unique and highly observed holiday for ages, and said holiday has inspired a lot of excellent works of art: The Nightmare Before Christmas, everything from the Misfits, the Halloween Series. All these things were greatly inspired by the traditional October holiday known as National Pizza Month! You think all those people creating that stuff could actually create without pizza as their muse?
Don’t you just love art?
Being an artiste specializing in kicking ass at old-school video games, I thought back to a time when I ate pizza and played video games together, and it hit me: At the arcades! And the kind of game I played the most at the arcade? Shooters! I love Shoot ‘Em Ups! Twitch gameplay, memorization, and explosions! That’s what I want to do this month! But I can’t just play any ol’ shooters; they need to have a unified theme that embodies the spirit of October because, let’s face it, “outer space” is a little broad for shooters. To narrow my options, I dug deep and decided I should somehow incorporate that other October holiday of All Hallows’ Eve. And what do people mostly associate with Halloween? Scary shit! And what’s scary? According to my daughters, monsters!
He’s just as scared of you as you are of him.
Looking through my collection, I found an assortment of shooters that think outside the spaceship and dwell in the realm of mythology and fantasy. These games are exactly what I want to play for the month of October; thus, I shall play them, and this month shall be known as Fantasy Shooter Month!
The only thing missing from this logo is a screeching guitar solo.
For the inaugural shooter to usher in this fabulous and fantastic month-long celebration, I’ve chosen the Square Soft classic King’s Knight.
Spoilers: It was a very bad choice.
Game: King’s Knight
Console: Nintendo Entertainment System
Publisher: Square Soft
Release Year: 1989
That’s some pretty sweet box art! I can tell this game is going to be filled with fantastic creatures and an epic adventure! Square Soft has really outdone themselves this time! This is going to be a great RPG!
Except King’s Knight isn’t exactly an RPG, and there really isn’t anything that fantastic about it in any sense of the word. And, unfortunately, the disappoint doesn’t end there.
King’s Knight is a Shoot ‘Em Up where you play as four different characters: a knight, a wizard, a monster/dragon, and a thief. Each character plays exactly the same, but they each have their own unique stage with the final stage letting you play as all four characters simultaneously (it’s as terrible as it sounds, and then some, but we’ll get to that). Your character constantly moves toward the top of the screen, forcing you to dodge incoming enemies and their bullets. Pretty standard for a shooter, but it’s weird when you’re a person/humanoid. Why the hell can’t you just stop moving forward? With a ship it kind of makes sense (except, then, why the hell can’t you turn around to shoot shit behind you?), but here you’re just walking! And it gets even more ridiculous when you get squished by the environment because you were too close to the bottom. Couldn’t you just stop so you don’t die?
Perfect. Now I’m late for work AND I’m going to starve to death!
It’s not that big a deal. It’s just a part of the game. Also, it’s kind of hard to die by environment squishing because the game lets you destroy everything in sight! It’s pretty cool and the most fun part of the game. Everything obstructing your path is able to be mowed down by whatever it is you shoot (I think the wizard shoots bubbles, but the less we talk about that, the better), and destroying things is a good way to find hidden things like power ups and secret stairs with more power ups.
Destroying the Earth yields rewards. It’s a great message.
Did I say the stairs give you power ups? I meant to say the stairs lead to more things that will kill you. Also, a pterodactyl. That will kill you.
Pterodactyls aren’t fantasy! Japan needs more science.
The underground pterodactyl isn’t even the most out-of-place enemy in the game. At least I can tell it’s a pterodactyl! I couldn’t even tell you what anything else in the game is.
That a nose monster? Are those boobs? Should I be aroused? Cuz I am.
There are some fantasy-themed enemies like lake monsters, ghosts, and a dragon, but the rest are just pixelated messes or rejects from other games or something. And my ignorance of this game doesn’t end there; I have no idea what’s going on! The plot’s easy enough: Save princess. Epic. It’s the rest of the game that confuses me. For instance, the game is about walking to the top of the screen and mindlessly shooting everything, but apparently there’s an RPG element as well. I only know this because beating a stage tells you your current level.
Ray Jack learns “Confuse Player” spell. Player is confused!
I guess you level up by killing things and collecting stuff, but I don’t know what any of the power ups do! Sure, the shield, boots, and sword increase your defense, speed, and attack, respectively, and the up arrows heal you while the down arrows hurt you (thanks for that, by the way, Square Soft), but what about the dual banana and the ball-surrounded-by-smaller-balls power ups? What the hell do they do?
They’re accessories that increase the success rate of the “Confuse Player” spell.
There are also special attacks your characters can learn probably through leveling up, which I’ve already established I have no idea how to do. This is unfortunate because there’s one move you absolutely need to have in order to complete the game. It’s a move the thief can use to destroy indestructible blocks on the final stage. And man, what a terrible stage!
I’d rather shove the sword up my nose at this point.
The final stage has you controlling all four characters at once, which is a lot like driving a school bus down a shopping aisle. You can’t dodge or move worth shit. It’s awful and feels extremely unfair with the amount of bullets on the screen. And you can only switch characters by collecting arrows scattered throughout the stage. It’s the clumsiest and most awkward way to end a game, so that’s something to write home about at least. Conglaturations, King’s Knight! You win the “Awkwardest Mechanic Introduced at the End of a Game” Award!
MGS2 is a very strong runner up.
Getting back to the mandatory special attack, on the final stage there are blocks that appear out of nowhere that can’t be destroyed by your regular attacks. The blocks create narrow paths that make it nearly impossible for you to dodge anything, and the paths all end by closing you in and ultimately squishing you. The only way out is by using the thief’s special attack, meaning you must have the attack and you must have the thief in the front of the formation. It took me forever to figure it out.
I died here like 30 times. I’ve never cussed so hard in my life.
It’s not like the special attacks are hard to use. You hit a single button. I just didn’t know they existed because I don’t know shit about this game! I do know that you only get one life and no continues, though. I found that out real quick! It caught me by surprise because you can die on the other stages and keep going. Whichever character died just won’t be there for the last stage. However, if you die on the last stage, which is incredibly easy if you hadn’t guessed what with you being the world’s largest target and all, it’s game over and you have to start from the beginning of the game. Also, if the thief dies, you might as well reset.
This screen was burnt in my retinas by my seething rage.
Thankfully, the game is short (but not short enough, if you know what I mean). There are only five levels, so restarting could have been a lot worse. But finally beating it was… exhausting.
I’m just putting this pic here for the records.
Upon beating it, I just slumped in my chair and lethargically watched the final scene. Scene in the singular form. Because that’s all you get. No credits. Just Ray Jack getting the girl, which is bullshit because without the thief they never would have gotten to the final boss and the wizard was the one who got the final blow.
Judging by how happy the princess is, Ray Jack might get the final blow after all.
Whatever. This game sucks. I hated it. It’s not completely unlikeable, though. The game is pretty unique in that it’s a shooter and an RPG, but I wish the RPG elements were better defined and executed. I also really liked using the environment-destroying mechanic to find stuff, but the final level didn’t have any of that and was just so damn frustrating and unfair that I couldn’t stand it anymore, making the game feel like work. I’d probably like this game if I didn’t go in with the intent of beating it, but who does that? I’ll play it some time in the future and see how it goes. Now that I know kind of what I’m doing, it probably won’t be so bad. I can only recommend King’s Knight to fellow masochist.
Thanks for your playing! Though this game wasn’t the best game to kick off Fantasy Shooter Month, it can only get better from here on out, right? Stay tuned all this month for more shmups that think outside the spaceship!