The story in Knights and Bikes unfolds in the late 1980s on the fictional Penfurzy Island, and it follows the antics of two young girls, Nessa and Demelza, who are united through a chance encounter. The newfound friends soon form an inseparable bond and they are bound together by their shared personal struggles (Demelza has lost her mother and her father is spiralling into debt and Nessa is seemingly homeless as we first see her approaching the island on a barge, completely alone). To aid their hardships the girls embark on a treasure hunt across the island, however, during their search the pair stumble upon an ancient cursed spirit that has accidentally been let loose on the island.
Knights and Bikes strives to capture the thrill and wonder of being a child and much like Night in the Wood, it's able to blend its more emotionally tender moments with its humorous theme of childhood naivety and curiosity. The combat, in particular, took us back to being a child as we wielded a plunger as a make-believe sword, used plasters as a method of self-healing, and launched water bombs and frisbees as projectile weapons. The '80s nostalgia is rich here, from the NES-like console in our bedroom to one of the puzzle-solving tools that was clearly inspired by Nintendo's ill-fated Power Glove.
Knights and Bikes has been crafted to be played cooperatively and you can team up with a friend both locally and online but there's also the option to play solo and this was how we played through the majority of the game. You can push the R1 (on PS4) in single player to alternate between both of the girls and whoever you have unselected will be AI-controlled. Many of the puzzles here are hinged on coop; as each player has their own individual tools for solving puzzles, you'll have to work together to be able to progress forward. In one puzzle, for example, we had to restore power to a generator and one player had to lay a water bomb by its severed cable whilst the other had to zap it with the busted Power Glove.
Coop is certainly where things shine the brightest as there are a few aspects that don't translate all too well into single player. There are occasional competitive mini-games where you and your companion battle it out to complete tasks such as destroying the most targets or winning a race on your bikes. When played solo the result of these contests doesn't matter at all as you can switch characters on the fly and usually, the AI is a complete pushover. We also found that the AI would clumsily get stuck on the environment and would often proceed to complete puzzles on our behalf, stealing away any potential feelings of satisfaction.
With the curse sweeping the island we found ourselves battling against everyday objects that had become possessed and hungry for blood. Anthropomorphised golf balls snapped their jaws at us, flaming foam swords trailed lines of fire across the battlefield, and floating clusters of fridge magnets proceeded to plough into us. The enemy design here is wacky and fun and we liked how the tools we used for puzzle-solving were also used in battles, however, we found combat to be awfully simplistic. In battles, we would often just spam the attack button within range of an enemy and shuffle out of the way of oncoming attacks, although we had few tools at our disposal to help mix things up.
Just as they were for us back in the day, bikes are your main method of traversal here and a fun touch is that they are fully customisable so you are able to tweak just about everything from your handlebars, to your wheel trims, and even the sound of your bell. There's even upgrades that you will unlock to help you traverse new areas within the overworld (kind of like in a Metroidvania style) and these include wheels to help pedal through thick patches of mud and an attachable boombox for shattering obstructions in the environment. We did find controlling the bikes feel awfully slippery - when pushing the analogue stick we would often spin around in circles as if we were gliding on ice, which was disappointing as the bikes are used here so prominently.
Wrapped up in the golden glow of autumn, the hand-painted presentation here is downright gorgeous and it harkens back to the storybooks we thumbed through as a kid. Perhaps in an effort to tie in with the storybook aesthetic, we should mention that there is no voice acting here and instead you'll have to wade through each line of dialogue with your finger firmly on the X button. We don't mind reading so it didn't trouble us in the slightest but we get that some may find this tedious as dialogue has such a prominent focus here.
Rich in '80s nostalgia, Knights and Bikes is a thoroughly enjoyable tale of unlikely friendship and supernatural events that we would urge you to try in co-op. The narrative captures the wonder and curiosity of being a child whilst almost delving into more sensitive subject matters and we enjoyed how there was a great emphasis on teamwork through puzzle-solving and combat. We did find though that some elements didn't translate so well into solo play and that combat felt a little underdeveloped but we would still argue that this is one you shouldn't overlook if you're looking for a new heartfelt indie adventure.
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