The pantheon of side scrolling beat’em ups sports an impressive set of games: Bad Dudes, Final Fight, Double Dragon, Streets of Rage, Altered Beast, and of course Golden Axe to name just a few. So when the announcement for Rake in Grass’s newest game, Rampage Knights, leaving Steam Greenlight came across my desk, I was intrigued. So, I ran up the hill to my apartment in Oslo, acquired the “review key” power up, and sat down for some side-scrolling, beat’em up fun. Rampage Knights is definitely fun, if a bit unrefined. There are nits to pick, and I’m going to try to pick at a bunch of them.
Rogue, it turns out, has become the filthy uncle of the videogame industry. Rogue has dirty, dirty sex with a game, say Robotron 2084, and out pops an amazing hybrid game like The Binding of Isaac. Similarly, this time Rogue decided to diddle Golden Axe, and out popped Rampage Knights. Long story short, Rampage Knights is a single play through of Golden Axe wrapped in the trappings of Rogue: maps, enemy types and number, items, and boss characters are all randomized for each successive run through the game.
No two people will play Rampage Knights the same. The game starts in a camp full of odd characters. The player can change their character class among an ever increasing set of unique classes. Classes beyond the basic Adventurer have benefits and drawbacks. The Warlock, for example, has unlimited lives so long as one of the Warlock’s demon pets is fully evolved before the Warlock dies; however, acquiring a fully evolved demon can be challenging, because the Warlock has significantly lower starting hit points than the other classes. Each class plays differently from the others, all while wrapped in the same Rouge-like beat’em up action.
Further, each time a player goes through the game, weapons, items, buffs, and debuffs will be different. Some of the weapons and buffs are significantly more powerful than others, and the powerful items and buffs synergize with each other leading to explosive results, like a critical hit for double the total life of a standard enemy. In the moment, it’s super fun to see big damage numbers, but then the novelty wears off, and the player is left with the realization that even large enemies can be 1-shot. It’s not a bad thing to have super powerful combos in a game, but there are a couple of cases in Rampage Knights where the feeling crossed from cool to empty.
A different example involves the item Icicle. Icicle is a sword that freezes all enemies on screen when an enemy is killed. Frozen enemies can neither move, nor attack. One of my successful runs was so because I could chain freeze every enemy on the screen and DPS them down one at a time, and with the exception of one or two enemies, they would stay frozen permanently on screen for the rest of the time it took me to clear the room. Again, in the moment, it’s super cool to have a such a powerful weapon, but eventually the novelty fades and a feeling of, “Wow, that’s kind of broken,” sets in.
Even given this example, for the overwhelming majority of the time, the combat is rewarding. Each game feels like a slightly different iteration on the same basic formula, which keeps Rampage Knights fresh. There’s a high amount of replayability and I haven’t even talked about the significant number of unlockable vanity items, difficulty levels, and classes.
I had so much fun playing this game. Part of my enjoyment is derived from nostalgia for side scrolling, arcade beat’em ups, but most of that is because Rampage Knights is really solid coming out of Green Light. Controls are solid, and there’s a risk-free practice area for players to test out the moves and abilities of a new class before going to the dungeon proper. The practice area is a nice bit of player “care and feeding” that demonstrates the attention Rake in Grass paid to the little details.
If there’s a consistent theme to Rampage Knights, it’s attention to detail. One example of this is an enemy type that looks like actor Danny Trejo. The Danny, as I came to start calling him, throws knives—I correct myself, machetes—at the player. The Dannys aren’t all that tough once one gets the timing of their attack down, but that’s not the point. The point is that they’re immediately identifiable as Danny Trejo.
It’s this feeling that pervades the entire experience with Rampage Knights. The player will see something—a room, an enemy, a weapon, a boss, a move, or something—and appreciate what they are seeing. Sometimes it’ll be an appreciation of the throwback to arcade games of days past. Sometimes that will be the Rougelike elements dropping an amazing combination of items in the player’s lap. Regardless, there is something for almost everyone to like with Rampage Knights.
I wanted to spend a good bit of time in this review talking about the good things in Rampage Knights, because everything I am going to talk about now is really a nit—minor things that don’t detract from the overall quality of the game if taken by themselves in a vacuum. That said, there are more than a couple of these things.
The first one is how uneven an individual run through of Rampage Knights is room to room. There are a couple of stretches where back-to-back rooms, and very occasionally back-to-back-to-back rooms, have no enemies in them. To make up for this, there will usually be a room where wave, after wave, after wave, after wave, after wave of enemies appear to the point where the player is left asking themselves if the room is ever going to end. This can result in a ton of backtracking to get health potions and food left on the ground in the empty rooms after barely surviving one of the marathon rooms. Rampage Knights would be better served by having a couple of waves of enemies in every room to even out the pacing of each game.
Another nit to pick at is how much easier the game is multiplayer than single player. Kevin and I showed this on stream the other night, when we messed about on Hard difficulty and beat the game with a Pirate and a Warlock. I was almost perpetually immortal for the entire game, and my kills fed into resurrecting Kevin the couple of times he ran out of lives. Combine that with one of us having Icicle to freeze every enemy on screen after the first enemy in the room dies, and finishing the game was no big deal. Conversely, I’ve struggled mightily in Hard difficulty alone. I was expecting an increase in difficulty when Kevin and I played together, but the game didn’t seem all that much different.
Third is the shielded enemies. By themselves they are fine. The player needs to have either a mace weapon with the “shieldbreaker” attribute attached to it, or the player needs to hit with a jump attack to shatter the shield before doing regular damage to the mob. When they appear in large groups with other regular enemies, the player is force to attempt to connect with a jump attack or focus on regular enemies before shifting focus to ones with a shield. Most of the time, the initiated jump attack works fine. Every so often, however, the jump attack gets interrupted, dropping the player into a sea of mobs to get comboed into oblivion, or the jump attack results in the player falling into a pit.
Rampage Knights is a fun nostalgia trip and priced right at $11.99. There’s lots to do, and the throwback to Golden Axe is most welcome. If you’re interested in a trip down memory lane to side scrolling beat’em ups of days past, or you’re a fan of Roguelikes, then Rampage Knights is well worth the look.
Rampage Knights was obtained from Rake in Grass and reviewed on PC via Steam.