Friendship is Magic
I think Stranger Things’ biggest contribution to fiction is repopularizing the Spielbergian “kids on bikes” trope. Now we can all revisit that innocent time when unsupervised children uncovered lost treasure, discovered government conspiracies and caused massive property damage. Knights and Bikes follows the tire tracks of those who came before but has the charm of a kid-friendly story and the spark of child-like imagination.
Knights & Bikes revolves around Penfurzy Island, a failing tourist destination off the British coast with a mystical past and a legendary lost treasure. You play Demelza, an innocently cute island native, and Nessa, a tomboyish orphan who just arrived on the last ferry of the season. When the two girls meet, Demelza and Nessa hatch a plot to uncover the island’s long-lost treasure and save Demelza’s family from foreclosure. Before their adventure begins, the two accidentally unleash an ancient curse that threatens to consume the island and corrupt its people. It’s up to Nessa, Demelza, and their pet goose, Captain Honkers, to find the treasure and put things right before its too late.
Characterizing the Knights and Bikes Cast
Demelza is unbelievably cute. She’s quirky, spunky, imaginative, spiteful, excitable, sympathetic, and a little rebellious. All of her dialogue perfectly reflects her character. She constantly imagines things happening and they are drawn into the world in appropriate sketchbook style. Demelza makes it easy to get invested in the story and the strange people of Penfurzy Island.
Nessa is much less interesting. She doesn't reveal her backstory until the final cutscene, her dialogue has less flavor, and she occasionally works against Demelza and their shared goals. This is unfortunate for a co-op game. Demelza has strong character development while Nessa lacks motivation and can come off as a Mary Sue.
Overall, the focus is on the story. Gameplay varies greatly but generally adheres to a 2D action-adventure with puzzle elements. Sometimes, you biking around. Other times, you’re destroying stuff to open doors. Now you’re puzzle solving. Occasionally you’ll stop to fight an arena of possessed objects.
How Knights and Bikes Juggles Unlock Progression
Throughout the adventure, the girls each find three items they can use for both combat and puzzle-solving. Demelza has boots that allow her to kick up dirt and ground pound. Nessa has unlimited water balloons for putting out fires and fighting flaming enemies. Some of these abilities can combine as well. Demelza can create a massive area of effect attack by stomping in one of Nessa’s puddles.
Unfortunately, split abilities and the rate at which they unlock leave Nessa feeling underappreciated. Demelza gets her boots about half an hour before Nessa gets her first tool. Likewise, Nessa doesn’t get her bike for the first few hours. This feels even worse when your co-op partner will not share their bike and you have to trek across the wilderness on foot.
Nessa’s undervalued status extends to puzzle-solving and boss fights. Demelza’s equipment, especially her third item, fundamentally change gameplay. One whole level of Knights and Bikes has Demelza testing out her new ability while Nessa does nothing. Nessa doesn’t get that same chance to shine, which is especially noticeable given her lack of backstory and character development. This is most apparent in the second boss fight. In a four-stage fight, Nessa cannot cause any direct damage and can only provide support in two phases. I primarily played Nessa and it was frustrating to give my co-op partner puzzle directions during a hectic boss fight while unable to do anything myself.
Making the Most of Knights and Bikes' Co-op
Combat has that edge-of-your-seat intensity. You’re always outnumbered by different kinds of enemies and there are projectiles everywhere. As players share the screen, you have to communicate to make sure you don’t get stuck at the edge, just out of reach of the ranged enemy shooting you with fridge magnets. Thankfully, the healing system is quite good. The girls have individual health bars, and either can request a high five that heals both of them. Healing both characters is extremely efficient. Neither I nor my co-op friend fell in combat.
Where the co-op really shines is when the girls show their competitive sides. Throughout the adventure, Nessa and Demelza will have small competitions. Many of these are races. Others are button-mashing contests. Some are simplified 2D fighting games. These add character to the whole of Knights and Bikes and make for exciting couch-co-op yelling matches.
While Knights and Bikes is meant to be played cooperatively and supports online matchmaking, you can play solo as well. In single-player, you switch between the girls as needed, with an AI taking over for the other character. What I didn’t expect was that the AI will occasionally solve puzzles for you. As I looked around as Nessa, the AI Demelza suddenly used her grappling bomb to pull a lever I hadn’t even seen yet. While it makes for an effective combat buddy and AI companion, it takes away some of the satisfaction of finding the lever yourself. Thankfully, the AI did not solve optional puzzles.
Trading Junk in Knights and Bikes
Each map has optional puzzles with secret biscuit tins as a reward. Open one of these tins and you’ll find a tiny treasure trove of bread clips, band pins, action figures, worms, and other nonsense. I really don’t understand why these are present. They seem to exist just for the sake of having collectibles. Loot is everywhere but you only use it to upgrade your bike.
There are only three bike upgrades and a range of cosmetic options. Bike upgrades effectively gate content. One of the maps is an open wilderness that connects all the regions of Penfurzy Island, but environmental hazards block off sections of the map. At one point, we couldn’t proceed due to a mud pool blocking the way. The bike merchant later stood next to the mud like Moneybags from Spyro, offering the mud tires upgrades and cosmetics for a small fee. Unfortunately, cosmetics are largely invisible. The bikes are so small on screen that you often can’t even make out the color of the bike, much less all the details you’ve added.
Upgrade fees proved inconsequential. We had so much loot, even without finding all the secrets, that we could easily buy all of the bike upgrades and cosmetics. In fact, you have so much loot, Knights and Bikes doesn’t count it or show you that it’s in your inventory until you go to the store. This proved incredibly confusing early on when I noticed we were collecting bread clips and coins but had no visible inventory or explanation about using loot.
Solving Knights and Bikes' Simplistic Puzzles
The lack of inventory, paired with character quips, makes puzzle solving trivial. Many puzzles throughout Knights and Bikes have one of the characters saying they can’t do anything, which signals that the other girl needs to use their items to solve the puzzle. At one point, the girls looked at a gear mechanism and said, “It’s missing something wheel-shaped.” Since there’s no inventory or means of picking up items, I immediately realized we had to drive our bike into the gears.
More than anything, the puzzles leave me conflicted. The puzzles are very easy and often rely on backtracking. One puzzle caused the entire map to change after each interaction. However, the puzzle went like this: Throw Lever A to open the path to Lever B. Lever B grants access to Lever C. You do this song and dance all the way until Lever D opens the path to the next area. After all that, you must backtrack to the beginning of the area to get your bikes. The map-shifting elements of this puzzle feel like misdirection for a linear sequence.
Knights and Bikes rarely presents a puzzle more difficult than the one described, which, unfortunately, makes the puzzles feel like padding. Moreover, the puzzles never build on or modify what came before. You’ll find a handful of those gear mechanisms, all in the same region, and every single one requires you to ride your bike into them just as you did with the first one. Again, if you’re playing solo, the AI will solve many of these for you.
Knights and Bikes Review | Style and Substance
While the gameplay is average for a 2D action-adventure game, Knights and Bikes really shines in its visuals. The stylized look of the world is adorable. Early Fall colors really pop in the wilderness. Demelza’s imagination and sketches add flavor to the more mundane scenery. Every level and character have a distinctive color-scheme that makes them memorable and easily recognizable. Likewise, while there’s no voice over for dialogue sections, the character’s dialogue portraits change to match their mood, even if the characters themselves do not. It’s a cute little addition that keeps you in the state of mind. As usual, Demelza’s cute face is the highlight of the dialogue system.
On the other hand, the story itself was a wash. Knights and Bikes starts out with a strong hook: Find the treasure, dispel the curse, save Demelza's family. The characters are charming, but the overall tone is serious and a little dark. Then Knights and Bikes gets progressively fanciful until it hits full-on silliness in the final act. Throughout all of this, we know Demelza's personal stakes and her desire to succeed. Nessa is just there.
In spite of the tonal shifts, I was completely engaged until the very last cutscene. I won’t spoil anything, but the ending and Nessa’s final explanation had me and my co-op friend nearly shouting at the screen in confusion. My co-op buddy said, "They had all this potential and they turned it into nothing."
Despite all this, I think Knights and Bikes is a great choice for kids in the 7-12 range. I could absolutely see a parent playing Nessa and letting their kid solve all the puzzles as Demelza. Generally, the gameplay, characters, and tone are perfect for that younger age range. While older audiences will find Knights and Bikes a largely unchallenging experience, I see it as a great opportunity for bonding with friends and family.
- Colorful Art Style
- Charming Side Characters
- Great Sense of Adventure
- Intense Combat Sequences
- Competitive Contests
- Online Co-Op
- Simplistic Puzzles
- Can’t See Bike Customization
- Solve Puzzle Then Backtrack Format
- Finale Sequence