If possible, a game should make as strong an opening statement as it can. Done right it can establish what it’s all about right from the sart and get you onboard within seconds. Developer Foam Sword Games clearly understands this, because the opening to its adorable co-op adventure Knights and Bikes perfectly captures the spirit of what’s to come and instantly makes you fall in love with it. What does follow happily keeps that good feeling going.
The young protagonists are pedalling their bikes like mad, chased by all manner of scribbly chaos, and it’s backed by shouty kids singing ‘I WANNA RIDE MY BIKE!’ like tiny punks. All of this is presented in the form of colorful and scrappy artwork from the children’s books this delightful game originates from. Like I was saying, instant adoration.
Knights and Bikes is mainly the story of two young girls and their search for a legendary treasure, but it also deals with the power of imagination, loneliness, friendship, and grief. All of that is viewed through the eyes of these two girls, and that lends a heartwarming sweetness to even the most somber aspects of the story.
Set in 1987, on the fictional English island of Penfurzy, we’re introduced to local girl Demelza, who is dealing with quite a lot in her life, and in desperate need of a distraction. Enter mainlander Nessa, a girl who has come to Penfurzy to seek that legendary treasure out for herself. A series of events brings the pair together, and when Demelza’s father reveals the family business (a caravan park) is in jeopardy, the girls set off together in search of the treasure in hope of saving it.
This is an island on the decline, tourism has dried up, and being out of season, things look especially gloomy for all of the residents. Demelza has little to do as her father is so preoccupied with running the business; so, her imagination takes a fabled story of Knights and treasure on Penfurzy and creates a daring adventure out of it.
Strangely, Nessa can actually see manifestations of Demelza’s imagination, and what seems to be two girls exploring a dreary tourist trap out of season, becomes a quest that includes a fight against an ancient curse and mythical beasts.
Much of what Demelza ‘imagines’ is made clear by the presentation of her manifestations being drawn more scribbled and childlike, but some things blend with the regular artstyle, leaving the gap between the reality and the fantasy close to nonexistent. It does provide some amusing interpretations of what real things are to Demelza (a deep-sea diver is dubbed a Sea-Astronaut) and lends well to the theme of childhood imagination.
A Joyous Quest For Treasure
But how exactly do you go about finding this treasure? Action is viewed from an isometric standpoint with a static camera during gameplay. In co-op, one player controls Demelza, the other Nessa, and they must complete ‘quests’ on their journey. These quests are, in reality, relatively mundane. Feed some geese, play a broken-down crazy golf course, potter about town while you maybe ring some doorbells and run off.
Of course, the girls make it a bit more interesting, with Demelza’s vivid imagination and her also regularly peppering each quest with nuggets of information about the island, the story of the Knights, and her own personal life.
Quests tend to involve simple puzzles and combat. These are bested by the girls’ special abilities. Nessa has a frisbee that, when charged, can throw out three at once, and bounce off certain surfaces. Demelza has her trusty welly boots to kick up mud, stomp in puddles, and give foes a deserved kick in the backside.
These can be combined, with Demelza able to kick Nessa’s frisbee. These can be used if a puzzle requires Nessa to stand on a switch and hit an inaccessible target for example. If combat does start to get the better of you, holding down circle sees your character request a high five from the other. Once they respond, it will heal you (though you can just do it for fun too).
The bikes tend to be mostly about getting from A to B quicker than running (I have to mention how cute it is that the girls make motorbike noises when running). They do get to have other uses as the game progresses, and you can buy upgrades for them at the Bike Store by handing over any ‘money’ you’ve discovered on your travels. Money being things you find such as stickers, used tickets, worms, and more. No wonder businesses are in dire straits if they take that as payment.
Nothing is too taxing gameplay-wise, if anything it’s a touch light, but what it does offer, and this again is very in keeping with the overall tone and theme, is a place to mess about in. A walk or ride (the bikes don’t immediately come into play, and you can’t take them everywhere) to a location doesn’t have to be straightforward.
Go splash in those puddles, go play that video game, dunk the witch, have a kickabout with a football, go down the damn slide and let your heart melt at the mad giggling the girls do. The fact you can, and should, play it in co-op only amplifies the effect. Playing on your own doesn’t quite feel right, as there’s just more fun and humor to sitting beside someone and mucking about in this world.
A Perfect Co-op Adventure
Knights and Bikes tries to offer up a few positive messages, with differing degrees of success, but the most triumphant one is that of finding the fun in the everyday. That’s a thing that becomes harder as childhood leaves us, and Demelza is having to deal with the internal turmoil of keeping that up whilst dealing with the harshness of her reality.
It means this is a coming of age story in a way, but one which fairly balances both sides of that divide between untroubled youth and adult responsibility. The end comes, and perhaps it’s fitting that it doesn’t quite satisfy, but the journey there is the video game form of a rainy Sunday afternoon as a kid.
It’s dreary, a touch depressing, and a bit boring on the surface, but there’s also a warming magic to it if you allow yourself the luxury.
Knights and Bikes is available now on PS4.
Review copy provided by publisher.