The Elite Institute has quite the history with RunicCodes. One of the earliest titles we covered was the original Red Colony, which was essentially a 2D Resident Evil game but with big tits and bigger jank. However it surprised be by not being as dreadful as I expected: in fact, I actually had a fair amount of fun with the game, despite its issues.
Within the course of a year, Rune released a sequel that improved upon the first a fair bit… and then released a threequel that unfortunately fell a bit short in our eyes. Regardless of their varying quality though, they were still solid enough to put the developer on our radar.
And so we have KnifeBoy Rebooted – a reworking of one of his older titles. Adding in reworked lighting, as well as some other additions and quality of life improvements, I was excited to see what it had to offer. Considering the scale of the game was much larger than Red Colony, I honestly had no idea what to expect with regards to the quality.
I certainly didn’t expect it to be this damn fun.
Many thanks to Runic Codes for the review copy.
CALL THAT A KNIFE?
KnifeBoy, the titular protagonist (who happens to have a stonkingly massive knife sticking out of his head), was the leader of the rebellion that took down the The New World Order that held the world under its iron fist. Unfortunately the rebels’ victory is soon short-lived, as KnifeBoy is soon betrayed and killed by someone close to him – thus leaving a power vacuum that the now-leaderless rebellion is no longer able to fill. In steps Anonymous, a new nefarious regime that is just as bad as the one that preceded it, ready to take control of the world under their rule.
Things aren’t a complete loss, however, as KnifeBoy gets revived by the scientist Dr. J (who I believe is unconnected to the character of the same name in Red Colony) with the hope that you can take down this new regime, as well as save your partner from captivity.
The plot itself is mostly pretty straightforward, although the writing is just as messy as the developer’s previous titles and leaves things feeling slightly more convoluted than they actually are. The story does have its good moments, especially when they show off the hero being a badass, but it’s something you probably won’t pay too much attention as you work your way through the game.
KNIFE TO SEE YOU, TO SEE YOU KNIFE
The general structure of the game is that it features an open world that is centred around a hub town (in this case, a town called Twin Peaks) which acts as your sole respawn and save point, and the rest of the world is free to explore at your will – limited only by your current moveset. Twin Peaks is full of stuff to do and will prove to be an important location during the course of your game: there are healing points that can get you up to scratch for a low cost (very useful considering that you annoyingly don’t recover all your health after respawning), a few hangout locations with NPCs that can give you sidequests if you fancy earning some extra cash or health upgrades, and a newly added shop where you can buy an assortment of useful items and in-game tips.
The main objective of the game revolves around powering Dr. J’s teleportation device by acquiring eight of the ten golden cogs scattered around the land. There are a variety of locations to explore in the hopes of either cogs or additional upgrades that will help you traverse more areas in this weird world.
Upgrades are particularly useful, and some great unique ones have been added to make movement feel extremely rewarding: of particular note is the jet boost that sends you flying at high speed, and the ability that allows you to run vertically up walls. Movement upgrades are designed to be pretty overpowered in KnifeBoy, and you’ll find that many will often allow you to bypass certain areas completely – often resulting in you entering boss rooms from the exit rather than the entrance! The developer has stated how much he adores sequence breaking, so having so much cheese in the game is more of a feature rather than a bug. Given that there’s no levelling system, it doesn’t really affect the difficulty at all and makes the game feel even freer as a result.
Combat doesn’t feel quite as good as the movement does, as you’ll quickly find out that simply hammering the punch button will stun-lock almost any enemy. Bigger enemies require a little more care, but your ability to basically hover in place while pummeling at their head should take even these foes down with little effort. There are some exceptions, such as the fearsome pigs-on-stilts that that really do need to be taken out with a spin attack, or kamikaze enemies where you’ll have to quickly dodge their spear charge; however, the vast majority of the grunts require little effort to despatch.
The bosses, on the other hand, fare much better and these glorious encounters are incredibly enjoyable as they require you to actually dodge well-designed enemy attacks and deal damage to their weakpoints. Again, your special attack isn’t really a requirement as simple punches will suffice, but these foes are so entertaining to fight that you won’t really care so much. Bosses are also unique in how gloriously and beautifully grotesque they are. From behemoth abominations that require you to platform around to their weakspots to a birdlike train powered by a mutated lady, they’re all weird as hell and an absolute joy to take down.
In fact, the game’s presentation is surprisingly strong throughout. On the surface it has the same flash-inspired visuals of the Red Colony series, except this time pulled off with far greater competency. Human characters still look a bit ‘off’, but these freaks seem right at home when surrounded by the monstrosities and general weirdness around them. Everything has this genuinely creepy and off-putting look to it that becomes all the more compelling as you get used to it – even if some areas can be a little bit too dark at times. One particular element of praise I would like to give is with the game’s animations, which – even though they are not perfect (especially with the human foes) – are miles better than the robotic and janky characters that inhabit the Red Colony universe. Of particular note, KnifeBoy himself moves particularly fluidly and both looks and feels fun to play as.
Unfortunately the music lets the game’s presentation down a little; not by its quality, which is generally pretty good, but by the fact that it lacks looping. Spend too long in a level results in the music just… stopping. It’s frustrating when you find an area with a great pumping track only for it to cut out and leave you with deadly silence. The developer has stated this is intentional due to some technical issues, but I really hope that he can find a way around it for a future patch.
Despite how positive I’ve been about the game, that isn’t to say that it isn’t without many faults: KnifeBoy certainly contains more than it’s fair share of RunicCodes-esque jank and questionable design choices. With regards to the latter, the game tends to thrive on giving you as little help as it possibly can. The map is almost completely useless, and the guidance given to you by NPCs can be rather hit or miss as to where to go next. There’s a guy who sometimes gives you useful pointers as to where to head next, but other times will basically shrug and tell you that he has no idea what you should do next. There are hints you can purchase at the shop to tell you locate trasures and golden cogs, but as these just show you a photo of the location then it’s only of limited use.
Speaking of useless photos, the game has a real tendency to rely on visuals to convey information rather than using actual names and/or descriptions. Of course, this has been done to save on the need for translation (as the game does support an impressive array of languages), but Rune often chooses the most obscure pictures possible to represent things. The shop in particular is a big offender, as the potions are probably the only item you’ll understand prior to buying. Every other item is more of a gamble as to whether or not your hard earned cash (and some of these items are very expensive) is being used on something that will help you. Obtuse visuals also plague the inventory screen too, which does look pretty stylish but took me a while before I figured out how to actually use it.
All the other issues tend to boil down to programming issues, with occasional ‘quirks’ and bugs cropping up that can give the game quite an unpolished feel at times. Sure, these problems can lead to beneficial side effects at times, such as a near infinite spin-jump that allowed me to essentially miss one of the biggest areas in the game, and a respawn system that sometimes refuses to let you actually die; however, this bugginess can also take the form of wonky hit detection or the game ‘forgetting’ the last checkpoint you hit. Thankfully, these aren’t quite enough to spoil your enjoyment but still unfortunate nevertheless.
KnifeBoy Rebooted certainly isn’t perfect, and the game’s jank and lack of direction is certainly enough to taint the overall experience … but it’s also a whole lot of fun that keeps you wanting to continue and find out what madness awaits further in. If you can get over that initial hurdle and get used to how the game is, you’ll find a very enjoyable experience here!