In Knight 'n' Grail, you take control a brave knight on a quest to release your loved one from a curse which has turned her into a dragon by finding a magical golden grail. To find the grail however, you must explore over 200 screens with various obstacles in your path, finding various weaponry, armour and power-ups to help you on your travels. From very first loading the game, you are presented right away with an excellent and well executed title screen complete with colourful logos and a catchy Ghost n Goblins style tune. Pressing F1 will start the game, and at later points you can press F5 to save previous game. Starting the game in a rather wonderfully detailed castle, you guide your knight through the world via a mixture of flip screen and smooth scrolling based action. The game has that feel of a classic NES platformer and can be described as a sort of Ghost 'n Goblins (C64), Wizards and Warriors (NES) and Addams Family (C64) concoction.
Right away you will find areas locked off which you cannot access - to open some, you must find special orbs and bash them to open these locked areas. To ensure you know where you are, pressing space will bring up a rather nice map showing areas visited and indications of doors which haven't been accessed yet. Clues to help you progress further in the game can be found via the various runestones dotted around, by which pressing down on the joystick will allow to read them - these will help to you understand about the certain objects required to help you progress further. Additionally, some areas seem a little high and hard to reach - which is where the neat power-up system comes into play. One of the key power-ups to pick up early on is the double jump, which is very useful indeed. There are many more power-ups throughout the game which are required to pass certain areas - but you will have to discover these for yourself.
Wandering around the world of course wouldn't be the same without a nice splash of enemies to bash; Knight 'n' Grail delivers the goods with a vast range of opponent in the form of skulls, trolls, snakes, birds, falling blocks, wizards etc. Each enemy has your usual differing abilities, such as hits to kill, bullet types and general movement. The killing of these deadly creatures is done by using your sword, which by pressing fire will have it very nicely swing it outwards and back again like a boomerang. As you kill enemies, coins of bronze, silver and gold will drop for you to collect - you will need to build up as much coinage as possible, which is very useful for a particular power-up later in the game.
A HARD DAYS KNIGHT, I SHOULD BE SLEEPING LIKE A LOG
The iron sword and armour that you start off with can be changed later in the game by finding new upgrades. These upgrades come named based on various elements such as Wind, Ice, Earth and Fire, and will give you different types of shot and protection. The colour change indicated for selected armour will show what you are immune to; so for instance with the Fire armour you are immune to bullets of the same colour. One of your first encounters where armour selection is key is against one of the game's great guardians blocking your path which shoots a flurry of bullets and where you must select the right type of shield to ensure you don't get blown to smithereens. At some point in the game you must find all of the swords and shields to gain access to the most powerful set of all to help in the final phase of the game (I will not say any more than this to spoil it for you!).
Whilst playing the game you can take several knocks to your energy before you die, you can however find power-ups to replenish and even increase your energy bar levels. If you do happen to die, then you are sent to the start of the game with all your coins lost. However, as we are dealing with quite a large play area, you can very usefully save your progress throughout the game by finding a "Rune of Rebirth", of which several can be found at various points in the game world. Due to the amount of detail and sheer size, it is unsurprising that Knight 'n' Grail is a multiload. Blue arrows in the game indicate a part of the map you are entering requires a bit of loading, but its quick and painless and has a nice little Hawkeye style interlude screen.
Graphically the game throughout is stunning - the backgrounds are extremely colourful and detailed with some great use of colour splits throughout (The quality reminding me very much of the unreleased Deadlock) and the design of the map is very well thought out. The various guardians which you encounter are very well detailed and provide good challenges to pass (The dragons in particular are brilliant). The main character and enemies are also well animated, and everything moves around smoothly without an ounce of a glitch. The smallest of details such as the flames, the Dragon effigies, the warm skies all add to a great medieval atmosphere in the game. The quality never dips at any point, and if you complete the game - then the reward is certainly worth it!
Sound is another strong point of the game - with different music to each of the different areas of the game. The interesting thing which is quite different to any C64 game I've played, is that the music always starts on a particular area, plays through and then things automatically switch to some very neat Jon Dunn style sound effects (instead of the music looping). However, after a short bit of time, the music suddenly comes back and starts playing again. At first this was very strange, and felt odd - but actually keeps the sound fresh without anything grating.
Overall, the range of features, hidden bits and little touches which Knight 'n' Grail contains makes this a very fun game to play. The urge to explore and discover more and more of the game world is very compulsive, and I found myself burning hours away to see what came next. The variety across the different areas in terms of layout, challenges, enemies as well as look and feel keeps everything fresh throughout - just little things like Mine carts you can ride on in the caverns for example all helps proceedings. Topped with the brilliant graphics and atmospheric music and effects, then what you get is something which is rather special for a recent C64 release - right up there alongside Metal Warrior and Newcomer. And there are even some twists towards the end which is a cherry on top of the icing of a very delicious cake! I managed to complete the game after several days worth of play to give a fair review, but i've enjoyed it so much that I am certain to do it again when my reserved copy comes through.
Knight 'n' Grail as a result of all the superlatives comes highly recommended - it is by far one of the best games I've seen/played on the C64 for a long time and now also the best new game which Psytronik has released yet. If you haven't yet ordered a copy, then I urge you to do so - as it is truly superb and even comes in professional quality disk packaging if you order the Deluxe edition to top it all off. I cannot wait until Wide Pixel's next game which looks as awesome as if not better then Knight 'n' Grail!