Early Impressions: FIGHT KNIGHT
The first-person brawler is a concept that sadly doesn’t yet have much of a handhold in gaming. Outside the Zeno Clash games and certain missions in MIRROR’S EDGE, very few titles outside of the fighting genre elevate fisticuffs from a sideshow to the main attraction. I’m not sure if this trend (or lack thereof) will be bucked anytime soon, but we at least have another offering in the works in the form of FIGHT KNIGHT. The product of four guys from Toronto, FIGHT KNIGHT’s Kickstarter recently surpassed its funding goal with the release of its demo.
As the eponymous Fight Knight, it’s your job to protect the realm from the undead hordes of the mysterious Tower. The hang-up is that you’ve been (rather inconveniently) cursed to be unable to hold weapons, so it’s entirely up to your fists to do the talking. Literally; punching is your sole interaction with the world, from fighting enemies to opening doors and initiating conversations with your hapless friends. In stark contrast to Dark Souls and its ilk, FIGHT KNIGHT is undeniably charming, and I appreciate the lack of self-seriousness in what is ostensibly a silly genre.
While Dark Souls is cited by the devs as their chief inspiration, and the game does feature knights punching skeletons and progress resets upon death, FIGHT KNIGHT is far from a “Soulslike.” If I had to sum up FIGHT KNIGHT in a word or 12, I’d call it a quasi real-time Etrian-lite with skill-based melee battles thrown in for good measure. “Dungeon Brawler,” as the game’s own page describes it, is far more catchy and essentially communicates the same idea. Once you leave the safety of the hub town and enter the Tower, you explore a series of dungeons, solving puzzles and locating keys, before you fight a boss creature and proceed to the next level. Breaking up the journey are random enemy encounters, which is where FIGHT KNIGHT transitions to its meat and potatoes: the combat.
Like, how can I even take reanimated skeletons seriously? They’d need ligaments to stay together!
Where Pokémon and comparable titles slow down once battles initiate, trading free motion for a series of turn-based menus, FIGHT KNIGHT actually increases its velocity when the melee begins. Foes comes in all shapes and sizes, but almost always outnumbering FIGHT KNIGHT by a large degree. Fortunately, the stage is always divided into two lanes, and the player can use this to their advantage to dodge out of the way from incoming attacks and funnel foes together to knock down domino-style with a charged up punch. Much like our hero, the fighting moveset is without frills or complications, but endearing regardless. There’s a primitive pleasure to mashing the spacebar as Fight Knight pummels a goblin to smithereens, or winding up for a final uppercut that will reduce the fellow to a puddle on the floor.
Despite the simple setup, FIGHT KNIGHT’s punch-outs are frantic encounters, and it’s hard not to be completely overwhelmed in later-level encounters. Each enemy type, whether ranged or melee, has its own quirks, from area-of-effect attacks that can’t be simply sidestepped to lassos that temporarily immobilize the player. It’s when all of these different characters begin appearing together that FIGHT KNIGHT’s challenge truly ramps up. Much in the vein of Persona, the best way to stay alive isn’t to wail on a single goon, but rather to keep the whole field stunned to buy some breathing room for your next attack. Unlike Persona, this requires lots of real-time inputs to bob and weave, punch and parry as you desperately try not to get cornered or consumed by the oncoming horde, and there is a real sense of accomplishment in surviving an encounter without taking any hits.
That FIGHT KNIGHT is able to create such engaging encounters while providing only the bare minimum of options to the player is commendable on its own, but the presentation is what makes the game pop. The mix of hand-drawn and photographed sprites inhabiting the 3D world elicits memories of classic first-person shooters, yet the fighter introductions at the beginning of each battle are ripped straight out of Street Fighter. FIGHT KNIGHT’s color palette, however, is perhaps its strongest suite, with each character and object being assigned a single primary hue for easy recognition. The green/red theme of the early stages in particular stands out as a truly iconic look.
Hell, FIGHT KNIGHT even beats GEARS OF WAR at its own game by making brown and grey cool again
Though fun to play and a treat to look at, FIGHT KNIGHT still has a few stinkers holding it back from perfection. While the simple control scheme, which lacks camera control, works fine for fights, it proves to be a pain for navigating the 3D overworld, particularly when it comes to rounding corners. Speaking of navigation, remember those random encounters I mentioned earlier? “Retreat” isn’t a word in FIGHT KNIGHT’s lexicon, so there’s no option to run away. While that suits the character perfectly fine, sometimes I’d rather just skip that upteenth mummy ambush while trying to figure out how to traverse one of the Tower’s baffling labyrinths. And call me pedantic, but the lack of a bona fide combo meter or ranking system in a button-mashing brawler is rather disappointing.
Still, FIGHT KNIGHT’s demo only encompasses its first two stages, and there is quite some time left until release, so it’s not a forgone conclusion that these issues won’t be alleviated. What is here to stay is the one-of-a-kind premise and the rock-solid foundations that FIGHT KNIGHT is built on. This one has the potential to be a true knockout, so stay tuned early next year for the final blow.
Played on PC