KnifeBoy is a metroidvania with a distinctive setting and art style, but gameplay that could use more work. There is a noticeable lack of polish, occasionally even feeling amateurish. Still, there are some bright spots that show a lot of potential.
KnifeBoy’s presentation is easily its strongest asset. The soundtrack is unusual, but tends to be interesting. It ranges from somewhat standard background music to bizarre tracks that grab your attention. A few tracks are bad, either because they are annoying or because they are overused and get repetitive. Visually, the game is detailed and unique, although sometimes it’s rough around the edges. The graphic style of KnifeBoy is essentially an animated comic book. You need to zoom in the camera in order to really appreciate it, but it’s a great element of the game. Some enemy designs are bland, but a number of them look great. The world in general has a cohesive design that gives the game a unique flavor. For better or worse, I can’t think of a game I’ve played that had a world even somewhat similar to KnifeBoy.
Story-wise, KnifeBoy feels underwhelming. The unique world is wasted on a storyline that doesn’t have much going on, and isn’t particularly well-written or engaging. You are tasked with saving someone from the bad guy, with little bits and pieces of plot scattered throughout the world. To be fair to KnifeBoy, most metroidvanias don’t even attempt to tell a decent story, so its mediocre plot is at least above average for the genre. It just comes off too generic for the unique setting, as if most of the writing time was spent on world building rather than the story itself. There are a handful of intriguing ideas, but because gameplay is the main focus, these ideas are never really expanded on.
Unfortunately, the game’s combat system is its biggest misstep. It is bare bones and somewhat awkward to use. Your primary attack is a 3-hit combo, which you will use for the entire game. Occasionally you might use one of your special attacks, but they aren’t powerful enough to feel worth using. In a standard metroidvania, this wouldn’t be a problem thanks to your combat abilities progressing as you play, but KnifeBoy doesn’t add many new moves, even by the very end of the game. It is also hampered by a lack of difficulty. Mashing the attack button will stun-lock the majority of enemies, preventing them from attacking you. Your other moves cost the KnifeBoy equivalent of mana and stamina, so they are only worth using at specific times. Boss fights are much more interesting and engaging, but they still tend to be quite easy.
Similar to the combat system, KnifeBoy’s platforming and exploration mechanics are rough around the edges. While the platforming is generally good, some areas of the world are too difficult, not because of the level design, but because it can be hard to make out what is the background and what isn’t. This is exacerbated by the world being one giant map that connects to every location. While this is standard for metroidvanias, KnifeBoy has a layout that allows you to fall from one area to another, making exploration annoying. Trying to figure out where you should go next is also a challenge, although it may have been exacerbated due to a bug I encountered. I accidentally killed one of the bosses in the wrong order, so when talking to the NPC that tells you where to go, he would give me the wrong area. Due to the metroidvania nature of the game, when going to an area out of order, you are often unable to complete it without having an item/power-up from the previous area. This led to me playing through numerous levels, just to get to the end and realize I need to be able to power jump to finish it.
KnifeBoy also has some issues with polish. It is well-optimized and the graphics look good, but there are far too many bugs. The game crashed once, but the biggest issue was the game freezing or preventing you from respawning after a death. You can only save from the center of the map, so if your character gets stuck, you can only reload an older save. Some hit-boxes can feel wonky, especially for the larger enemies. Accidentally jumping through a wall happened twice, although thankfully, it usually results in death rather than soft-locking the game. Considering this is the developer’s first game, it’s understandable that polish wouldn’t be their strong suit, but it has a big impact on how enjoyable KnifeBoy can be.
Overall, KnifeBoy is a good first game for a new developer, but doesn’t hold up against many other games in the metroidvania genre. There is plenty of creativity though, from the setting to the music, it just doesn’t pan out due to some poorly executed ideas.
*A free copy of KnifeBoy was given to MMM Reviews by the publisher for review purposes