Friday, May 21, 2010

Indie Game Review - Protect Me Knight

A while back, it was announced that Japanese video game composer Yuzo Koshiro (Actraiser, Streets of Rage, Super Smash Bros.) and his company, Ancient Corp., would be working on a title for, oddly enough, the XBox Live Indie Games Marketplace called Protect Me Knight. The mere news intrigued me, but the trailer (found here) in that announcement had me salivating. During last week's flood of XBLIG titles I hopped on XBox Live and found that the wait was over. Protect Me Knight had arrived like a combination of Christmas morning and a wedding night, eagerly anticipated but well worth the wait.

Protect Me Knight is a little bit of tower defense combined with a whole lot of Gauntlet-style hack and slash. Your bubbly princess needs protecting from a whole lotta baddies and it falls on your shoulders to do the goblin-killing and barrier-making (or repairing). You can choose between a fighter, ninja, mage, or amazon, each with their own attacks and special attacks, and between each of the ten levels you can upgrade different stats or abilities of your character depending on how well you did in the previous level. Doing all this alone is alright, but it's much more fun (and a hell of a lot easier) when you get some friends to join in.

It's not a rarity for a game to boast that it's retro. Some even do it as a sort of selling point. None, however, have been THIS retro. Right when you start the game up, you're treated to a scrambled screen that looks like a failed NES cartridge load. Immediately afterward, you see a cartridge and have to push A to blow into it and see if it works. From there, your eyes and ears bare witness to something that looks and sounds like an 8-bit treasure lost in time. Huge sprites, palette-swapped enemies, HP and MP bars instead of numbers, and Engrish. LOADS of hilarious Engrish. I've never read every menu for the purpose of laughter before this game. Of course, it's all intentional, but it's still awesome. Even the title screen greets you with the princess saying, "Save me, my hero! Defeat f%!king goblins!" And the music. OH, the music. As expected, it's great, but it and the sound effects remind me so much of Gradius and Contra that I almost cried. Maybe you have to be a dinosaur like me, but it's one of the most beautiful things I've heard.

Despite this game trying to play itself off as a NES game, I don't think this many controls would've worked on a NES pad. Movement's pretty normal, and attacking consists of either mashing A for your normal attack or hitting B for your character's special attack. In addition to those basics, however, you have Y for constructing a new barrier, X for loading and firing a catapult, and either trigger for blocking. The controls never felt sluggish or unresponsive, and you have to learn to control your frantic mashing if you want to throw out a lot of little attacks instead of doing some long string. All in all, it's exactly what you'd expect out of a quality retro title. Simple to pick up but requires skill and timing if you actually want to succeed later on.

For such a simple game, there's actually a decent amount of customization. It's almost like a mini version of Castle Crashers. Each of the four characters, in addition to having different stats and special attacks, has a unique set of four upgrades. For example, the fighter can upgrade his health, health regeneration, attack power, and special attack power, while the amazon upgrades her speed, "leach spear" (absorbs HP via attacking), attack, and special attack. But even the simple attack/special attack upgrades do different things, such as giving the fighter a spinning tornado attack while the amazon rapidly pokes with her spear. And all of it affects how you play, too, as you're less likely to go in with guns a-blazin' if you didn't pump a bunch into ways to keep alive. It's even better in co-op where you can start making better strategies for protecting your loving princess. You'll need this in the later difficulty levels (Easy, Normal, Hard, and Hell), though on Normal and down you and one other person will probably do just fine. Speaking of which, that might be my one gripe for the game. If you don't have anyone for co-op, you don't stand much of a chance beyond Normal. In fact, I couldn't beat the game alone on Normal with anyone BUT the fighter, with the amazon doing the second best. A minor gripe (there's always Easy...or a lot of practice and luck) as the game is best with others, but still one that's there. I'd complain about the lack of online play, but games like this deserve to be played on the same couch.

When you're done protecting the princess from goblins and dragons and ghosts, oh my, you've probably clocked in an hour, willing you didn't die TOO much. I'd say that isn't a lot of playtime for a 3 dollar game, but when you consider you'll play the game again and again and again with other characters and with friends it isn't an issue at all. If you only play this once, then I'll be sad. For anyone that grew up with the old gray Nintendo and jagged-edged controllers, this is a game that speaks directly to you. If you aren't one of those people, then you should probably try this game anyway as it's too fun to pass up, especially with some friends around. Here's hoping for more from Ancient, but I'll be quite content defeating f%!cking goblins for the time being.

Protect Me Knight from Ancient Corp. is available for the 360 on XBox Live Marketplace. Played through the game on Normal by myself and with my girlfriend and tried each of the four classes. Wishes this game was on Live Arcade for Engrishy achievements.

NOTE: If you can't find this game on your 360 (due to it using Japanese characters) you can use the link above, check the Top 20 Rated, or search by title and go all the way to the bottom and look through the Japanese games there.

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