Quest of Knights Onrush [Free] was originally thrown together by developer MoreGames and Chillingo to spearhead a marketing campaign for their then primary focus, Knights Onrush [$0.99], a castle defense game. It turns out that their promotional app, a side-scrolling arcade beat 'em-up, was even better received than the game it was promoting, and in April we revealed that it was being made into a full fledged game. That game, Knights Rush [App Store] is finally here.
Knights Rush takes the formula of the original game-- what was essentially a limited, endless mode-only beat 'em up-- and breathes the life of an entire campaign into it. Not shying away from that very definition, developer MoreGames envisioned an 'entire campaign' to mean 40 sizeable campaign levels over 8 unique worlds, and a battallion of 50 different enemy types and 8 giant bosses to clog the daylights out of. Not to mention two very different endless modes that improve greatly on its origins thanks to the huge library of art assets now available.
The campaign begins with a short in-game cinematic where your knight, after a little soul-searching, gets pulled into an alternate dimension. It's a no-fuss opener designed to get you into the action as soon as possible, as it's clear this is where the developer has spent most of their time. You start with a tutorial level, where you are soon introduced to two other knights to battle with. Before beginning each mission, you spawn in a portal room, where you can select from one of the three characters: a human Roman-esque knight, an other-world looking, dual scythe wielding knight, and a dwarven, hammer wielding knight. They each play very differently and have their own set of skills and perks to unlock.
The skill system itself needs some explanation, as it may not be apparent how it functions when first picking up the game. Each level, you begin by choosing a character, which is then spawned at level 1. Even if you come out of the first world at level 14, you'll still spawn in world 2 with your character reset. At first, this put me off, as I was having lots of fun with the progressive empowerement of my knight. In retrospect however, this seems to be a very clever implementation. Firstly, it allowed me to explore the breadth of each characters abilities over the campaign, mixing them in ways that I was not able to do in my first attempt. And secondly, it gave a nice sense of character scaling as I sliced through the 5 levels that make up each game world, leveling periodically without maxing out each and every skill.
Ultimately, each character has only 2 active spells that can be unlocked. Abilities are sorted into 'skills' and 'perks', and each level up you have access to 1 skill and a couple of perks. Perks supplement skills and your standard attacks, by adding benefits such as fire or ice to your attacks, or by increasing the rate at which you level or critical strike, or how much health is restored when you pick up health potions (or even how many additional skills or perks you earn each level). Skills on the other hand, include your two active abilities and several other passive abilities, such as attack strength or health bonuses. Each ability has 5 levels, and over the course of a world you'll generally be able to max out 3 or 4 of the reasonably lengthy list before having to reset.
As well as your active skills, the game includes a variety of consumable spells, from a crazy fox strapped with dynamite to your standard room-clearing freezes, proximity mines, or giant balls of energy. Though combat suffers a little from a tendency towards a truckload of frantic attack button mashing, the 3 skills nearly always at your disposal are crucial to surviving anything after about world 3. At this stage, the odds you face will progressively become more and more overwhelming and any previous thoughts of encroaching monotony are quickly swept away in the chaos. Unfortunately this doesn't extend to the huge, great looking boss enemies, who after the horde of enemies you have to wade through to get to, largely seem like pushovers. I would have liked to see a little more strategic varience to these encounters.
In any case it is clear that alot of time has been spent on the enemies in Knights Rush. Having 50 different enemy types is no small feat-- but having them all looking unique and with their own individual abilities and attacks is simply astounding. You'll encounter a host of different enemy knights, swamp monsters, giant crabs, giant spiders, the undead, wizards, vikings, golden scorpions, jumping iron-maidens...and more. These are then backed up by the legion of mechanical devices that are littered across each of the worlds. Worlds are replete with spiked traps, falling blades, rotating saws, raining arrows, giant boulders that fall from the sky, cannons, ballistae-- you name it, it's there. And in an interesting twist, these enemies can only be defeated by standard attacks (if at all).
Knights Rush has to be one of the most gorgeously detailed and painstakingly created game worlds we have seen on the iOS device. Each character and enemy is inked in a stylized fashion closely resembling that of Castle Crashers on XBL. The backdrops are equally lovingly rendered, richly detailed and set-off in layers to give a pseudo-3D effect that I absolutely love. Playing through the Super Endless Mode-- where worlds and enemies are randomly generated as you progress-- is a visual treat.
Finally, the standard Endless Mode rounds out the Knights Rush content, where levels you unlock in the campaign can be played endlessly. High scores for both endless modes are recorded in Chillingo's Crystal social platform, which offers additional replay value above and beyond the Campaign's 3 or so hours of game time (which can effectively be doubled or tripled if you decide to attempt Hard or Insane difficulties).
While some may initially be deterred by the few active skills available or the kitten-soft boss fights; you can't dispute that the sheer weight of content here resembles something more like what we'd expect from an expensive console downloadable title. That there are three very different knights to fight with further compounds the game's fun factor as you delve into their individual skill sets. All up, Knights Rush is a highly recommended addition to any action fan's game library, and should be a no-brainer pickup for beat 'em up fans. (Note, we did encounter a small bug where reloading the campaign following an endless mode sessions resulted in the wrong skill tree for our chosen knight, something we expect the developers will address soon but certainly not game breaking.)
If you're still on the fence, head over to our forums to read other readers' opinions and be sure to check out the (slightly outdated) gameplay trailer above as the game looks infinitely better in action.
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