Dibs on the blue one!
Gauntlet as an eight-person competitive arena game? Sure, I’m in.
That more-or-less accurate summary is about all it took for me to give Knight Squad a look. Hearing a few co-workers sing the game’s praises at conventions also helped convince me.
I don’t have an extra Xbox One controller for Knight Squad, much less seven, but that’s okay. Unlike a lot of recent multiplayer games, you can compete online as well as locally.
Knight Squad (PC, Xbox One [reviewed])
Developer: Chainsawesome Games
Publisher: Chainsawesome Games
Released: November 16, 2015
One of the things I appreciate about Knight Squad is its simplicity.
You move and aim with the analog stick, and attack with a button press. That’s about it! Whether you’re wielding the default sword or you pick up a laser gun, a bow, or a boomerang, it’s those same basic controls. The modes, while varied, aren’t hard to grasp, either.
Regardless of the objective at hand, you’re going to kill or be killed. Death is swift. There’s almost always a little ghost floating off a skeleton, because there’s almost always someone dying. Knights have one health point (two if they nab a shield power-up). With seven other players running amok on a single-screen arena, it sure is easy to get taken out. Thankfully, you’ll be back on the battlefield mere seconds later. There is very little downtime.
As far as modes go, nine are included with the base game and several more are available as DLC. I suspect folks will quickly narrow the list down to two or three personal favorites and ignore the rest.
- Capture the Grail (free for all)
- Capture the Flag (four vs. four)
- Soccer (four vs. four)
- Gladiator (free for all)
- Last Man Standing (free for all)
- Team Deathmatch (four vs. four)
- Juggernaut (free for all)
- Domination (four vs. four)
- Crystal Rush (four vs. four)
Knight Squad covers the usual bases. Excluding the standard deathmatch, all of the modes actively encourage players to congregate. You’re either going after a flag, a grail, a soccer ball, a particular spot that grants bonus points, a particular player with an overpowered weapon, or an object that needs to be captured, attacked, or defended. The end result is chaos. Pure chaos.
I like Capture the Flag best. It’s classic, and it works well in this top-down, fast-paced arena format.
I also dig Juggernaut. Matches begin with a minigun in the center of the map. If you reach it first, you’ll not only have a ridiculously good weapon, you’ll gain a shield, too. From this point on, the other players tend to team up. They’ll charge at you from all directions. Most won’t make it. But eventually, someone will manage to break your shield, and someone else will get close enough to strike the killing blow, grab the gun, and become the new juggernaut. That cycle repeats until the timer hits zero, and it’s thrilling the whole way through.
When you don’t have a full lineup of human players, AI bots will fill out the roster — but they aren’t nearly as exciting to compete against. I’d go so far as to specifically not recommend getting Knight Squad unless you have people to play with, whether that’s locally or online.
The game also offers six standalone single-player challenges. They’re challenging, all right, but I’d hesitate to call them enjoyable. You’ll face skeletons, worms, trolls, dragons, knights, and a bullet-hell boss. These encounters could have been good, but there are too many needless frustrations holding them back. Your character is really dang slow relative to the enemies, for one. There aren’t checkpoints. If you mess up once, you die, and when you die, there isn’t an “instant restart” option. Finally, the levels are gated, so most players won’t even see them all. At best, these challenges are a distraction from the real fun.
It’s important to note that now through December 15, 2015, Knight Squad is free to download with an Xbox Live Gold account. If you’re thinking of playing, this is a good time to do so while the player base is at its largest and most active. I didn’t have much trouble getting into matches, aside from technical issues (a couple of crashes) and hosts dropping out (there aren’t dedicated servers). So far, I haven’t encountered any noticeable lag.
There’s no shortage of cool party games these days, and Knight Squad stands among them. It’s not something I see myself returning to time and time again like some of its peers, but I got a kick out its accessible, action-packed multiplayer. If you’re coming along for the ride, be sure to bring friends.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]