Spectrum 2.0

Review of 'Knight Lore'

Rating:5 User: Digital Prawn

There's definitely an initial "barrier" to getting into this game properly. For 20 years or so, I guess just through my own lack of patience, I would occasionally fire up Knight Lore and die repeatedly, never getting too far in it. Eventually out of frustration, I would give up and play something else instead. I never knew of the game at all back when it was originally released, but owing to its status as one of the true classic games of the speccy, I felt there was always more to it than I had previously experienced.

However in 2012 I finally set aside a few hours when I would have a proper go at this game, allowing myself the luxury of snapshots to give me some reasonable chance of making some significant progress, given that I don't have infinite spare time available.

Well all I can say is when I finally started to play Knight Lore seriously, and gave it my 100% attention, I was really incredibly impressed by the game.

Finally I have now made it to the end and completed the game and for such a difficult title, believe me when I say that even using snapshots it still feels like something of an achievement. It certainly isn't an easy game, but I mean that in a good way. It can be succinctly described as an isometric collect 'em up, where you have to find and then add ingredients to a wizard's cauldron in order to cure Sabreman of his werewolf curse. But really the exploration and puzzling rooms in the game make it far more involving and challenging than it may at first seem.

The game really is charming throughout and it's interesting to see an 8-bit title featuring a player-character infected with functioning lycanthropy. I've enjoyed playing the werewolf in Morrowind/Bloodmoon, but it's great to see the same concept here on an isometric speccy title. Albeit simplified, but still effective and with a great transformation sequence and importantly, some in-game elements behave differently depending on whether the player is currently in werewolf form or not.

The randomness which I'd initially found puzzling (random start position, random objects in a given location) became somewhat understandable on repeated plays. The sequence at which the player has to add items to the cauldron is in fact always the same, although the initial point within the sequence is random. Likewise the objects are always found in the same places within the game. It's just that one set of objects is randomly swapped with another set and so on. The end result being that the randomness does not really make the game more difficult or easier on each play - rather just gives it a bit of welcome variation.

I've also learnt that some rooms in the game are much more difficult to get through than others. A wise player can eventually learn to avoid the most awkward areas altogether and go for the items which are in generally easier places to get to. For example, I have completed the game after only visiting 62% of the rooms. The sole criteria for winning is to put all 14 items in to the cauldron in the correct order.

The game map is alluring, with wooded areas as well as the more common indoor areas. Likewise the antagonists are many and varied. The graphics are generally superb, although necessarily monochrome. At least the colours vary from room to room, which sort of became standard for many isometric games on the speccy. Sound effects are good, I particularly like the satisfying special effects when a correct item is dropped in to the cauldron.

I was also glad to find out that the "Directional Control" method is available in the game. This took me a while to figure out as I generally like to play games in keyboard mode. The crucial thing to know about Knight Lore is that the directional control setting has absolutely no effect in keyboard mode. Keyboard mode only supports rotational mode. If like me you prefer directional controls, then you must select a joystick option (I used Kempston) and then ensure directional control is selected on the main menu and you will then get the directional mode controls. In joystick mode, fire is jump and I found that the 'Q' key can be used to pick/drop items. As it happens I still played the game on a keyboard, but just enabled the "keystick emulation" in the ZX-Spin emulator. Also, I've read that that Sabreman can jump further when he's in the werewolf state, although on playing the game I could not find any significant difference. I found I could make all needed jumps in either mode.

So despite the quirks, it's still very much a highly enjoyable game today. Whilst perhaps missing some of the features which made the later Head over Heels great, it makes up for that by having the excellent, magical setting and of course the lycanthropy angle and the wizard/cauldron room. The need to plan ahead with regards to collecting the correct objects is also a must, as it really is quite a race against the clock and time is very tight. This game really does have more depth that I ever thought it did. Add to that the fact it was such a groundbreaking release when it came out, i.e. to be able to manipulate various three-dimensional objects within the primitive physics engine, I can quite understand the amazement at the time, even though I was not a part of it.

For me, easily a 5 out of 5 game, definitely recommended. Not a game for a quick five-minute play though, you've got to seriously commit to a few solid hours, before you can start to enjoy it properly IMHO.