Weighing in at a whopping 24Mb downloadable (plus another similarly sized download for an optional music pack), it's plain that Knight Time is going to be bringing more to the table than the common-all-garden shareware platformer. Not that such a download footprint is a problem in these days of nearly ubiquitous high-speed internet connections, but it's certainly a break from the norm, and hints perhaps at a game with hidden depths, and on extended play, Knight Time doesn't disappoint.
Hailing from my home county of Yorkshire, Smudged Cat Games have created a platform epic reminiscent of the Apogee classics of old with a list of inspirations that reads like a dream-team of platformer greats: Ghosts&Goblins, Dizzy and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time to name the most obvious. Mixing an eclectic selection of game-styles in with their self-proclaimed 'classic platforming action', Smudged Cat have created something better than the sum of its parts.
Playing the part of the titular Knight, the player must make their way through various free-scrolling levels in typical jump-and-shoot fashion, with occasional forays in adventure territory involving fetch-quests or some interesting mini-games. Make no mistake, the action is very often secondary to the puzzles, not vice versa, and some of those puzzles are not for the faint of brain.
Relatively shortly into the experience, one of the game's hooks - the power to travel back and forth in time - is given to the player. Whilst this is no longer the ground-breaking gimmick it once was, Knight Time makes interesting use of the device via some excellent - though occasionally somewhat contrived - puzzles and set-pieces. It's nice to see an independent developer try something new like this, and although it's not perfectly executed, it works more often than it doesn't.
As previously mentioned, Knight Time is not that easy at times, and the pacing of the game is such that meeting a dead end can leave the player without the will to keep trying. Ostensibly a guide is available on Smudged Cat's website, but at the time of writing this was unavailable, which left this reviewer in the lurch on more than one occasion.
For you long-time shareware platformer junkies out there, Knight Time's physics feel as 'right' as those of Jazz Jackrabbit and its ilk, with just enough bounce and inertia in your knight to give that solid platformer feel. It's unfortunate that this is mitigated to a certain extent by a poorly thought out default control scheme that seems to require having an extra arm growing out of your stomach. One quick remap later and nothing stands between you and the fluid control of your avatar, but it's really not something that should have to be fixed by the end-user.
All this novelty and innovation, like most things in life, comes with a price and in the case of Knight Time it's unfortunately at the expense of the presentation of the game. Even by the standards of a ten-year old shareware game, Knight-Time doesn't look or sound half as good as it could or should.
Although typically neon and bright, graphically the game suffers from cookie-cutter levels and multiple uses of the same sprite, leaving the world feeling somehow more bland than the gameplay indicates it should be. Simple things, such as the way the title character's feet don't quite touch the ground, knock the professional sheen off an otherwise extremely interesting little game. Likewise, even with the add-on music pack I mentioned before, the tracks themselves - although catchy - are a little too MIDI synthesizer for my tastes, though others might differ.
Linearity certainly extends the play time of Knight Time, because when you become stuck - and you will become stuck, you are indeed totally stuck. Still, though lacking that certain, unmistakable 'one more game' factor all gamers are familiar with, Knight Time throws enough new features at you at a steady rate to keep your interest, and it all builds up to a final confrontation that brings all the previously disparate skills together in a satisfying way. Smudged Cat certainly get more than a few points for doing something different with their time, and should they manage to mix their ideas with some more professional presentation I imagine they'll have a real classic on their hands. In the meantime, however, Knight Time is certainly worth a go for fans of the genre.
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