Monday 4 December 2023

Knight vs Giant: The Broken Excalibur Review (Switch)


Written by Thomas G.J. Sharpe

 Combining so many pieces of the rogue-lite genre, a few too many design styles, and frankly too many bits of a title, makes Knight vs Giant: The Broken Excalibur a messy but not wholly unsuccessful adventure. At its worst it’s a gaudy Hades clone and at its best, it’s a charming diversion, I didn’t find a great drive to dive in for one-more-run for much time, as this genre really requires. I bounced off of this one, as I have with others of its ilk, but some may find this hits some good marks.

The first thing that hits you (especially if you’re from the UK) is Brian Blessed’s cataclysmic voice. Yes, once again the shrinking violet Brian Blessed, man mountain who mans mountains, has hit the video game voice over scene. It is no surprise that Blessed ended up in this sphere with such a characterful and entertaining voice. His video game credits are now rather lengthy, from movie tie-ins to some real classics like the equally colon-stricken Kingdom Come: Deliverance. While not seal of quality, Blessed is a strong selling point, and his performance makes the expository dialogue sequence bearable. The story is that Camelot is flung into a void as a shattered landmass floating in a crack in reality (sort of like Loop Hero, I understood), which sets up King Arthur as our player character, aided by Merlin (played by Blessed) in a quest to bring the whole situation back to reality. This is an effective set up for the style of game chosen, given that the different “biomes” that one has to battle through can be visualised as separated islands or areas in this floating void. The “hub” of the destroyed Camelot is set up as a place to pick loadouts, spend found currency and aesthetically develop.

If you’re familiar with Cult of the Lamb, Hades, or Enter the Gungeon (to pick a few notable titles), you already have the measure of this. As Arthur picks his base abilities, representing the styles of the other knights of the Round Table, you battle through a series of areas and then a boss. Each time you fail, you gain more experience of how to fight mechanically, but also develop your power and tools at the hub. There is a little flexibility with play style, but it feels somewhat restrictive because of the awkward controls in combat. I never felt a sparky cohesion of responsive control and hitbox management. Things just never felt connected to me. Due to this, I favoured the direct, melee fighting styles rather than the ranged attacks (I recall similar issues with Cult of the Lamb, causing me to feel unsatisfied before too long). Adding into this problem is the animations of the player character and the mobs are all “marionette” style, that have always felt quite unnatural and give vague visual cues about movement and perspective.

To follow this line of weakness, there are a mixture of art styles across this game that became distracting. While not unattractive, there feels a lack of singular purpose to it aesthetically. This is not, however, and unfun world to be in. There are lashings of humour, a positive charm, a good deal of decent dialogue, with some of it quite well and spiritedly voiced. Please, do not go rabbiting for any interesting Arthurian interpretation. There is artistic licence being taken everywhere, and this is not a criticism unto itself, but just a warning if you were looking for a slick reinterpretation of the ol’ legends.

Where Knight vs Giant really succeeds is not necessarily in the “knight” bit, but the “giant” part (the Chibi style of the Arthur player model is particularly and irritatingly out of step with all the other characters). The hulking bosses are wonderfully realised and are consistently the best bit of the actual gameplay. They are a fun mash-up of garish Eldritch and Kingdom Rush cute, leaving most of the rest of the enemy design in the dust. These are great moments that do some of the heavy lifting to keep the game afloat after hitting the same, quickly tired, areas again and again.

If Hades was a bit mawkish and Cult of the Lamb a bit Hot Topic for you, you could do well with this. Getting in and out of runs was a bit laborious for me, the execution a little clumsy, but still has a decent bit of fun to be had. Flawed, but not forlorn.

Overall - 6/10

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