Knight Arms is yet another one of my “Ooh! I have no idea what this is but it looks pretty!” purchases from Project E.G.G., a website that you should really go and spend a bit of cash at if you like the sort of games I insist on talking about here. The game itself is a shmup for Sharp’s X68000 series of computers; machines that at the time were vastly more powerful than the competition and Knight Arms is the perfect game to demonstrate the system’s graphical muscle.
The game opens with a rather nice Space Harrier style into-the-screen level that starts off in open space before skimming you across the surface of a moon. Seeing groups of large animated enemies zooming towards you (with proper scaling! None of this cheating sprites-at-different-sizes business) would be impressive enough at home in 1989, but then the game warns you to ＷＡＴＣＨ ＹＯＵＲ ＢＡＣＫ and instead of expecting you to do the usual routine of waiting for enemies to whizz past before blowing them out of the sky you can turn around at will and take them out before they even get close!
I imagine this doesn’t sound like much, so to try and add some sense of weight to that let’s take a moment to go over a few points:
- This game came out in 1989: the same year people were ooh-ing over hot new releases that looked like this -
- The game is calculating all of this on the fly – you can rotate whenever you like and all the enemy sprites, the multi-layered parallax background and the scrolling floor all move accordingly. This isn’t a nifty “cutscene” that only occurs at set points when CPU load is guaranteed to be low.
- Not even Sega’s hugely popular (and powerful) “Super Scaler” arcade shooters had a similar feature to this
Then just in case this visual splendour wasn’t enough once you reach the end of this section the game seamlessly switches to a side-scrolling view and the game becomes a horizontal shooter for a level, before sending you back into space, then whooshing across the surface of an aquatic planet before plunging into the water and beyond. Far from a mere gimmick, the graphical showmanship on display in Knight Arms really does add to the “wow” factor that you really should have in any game that involves flying through space and blowing things up.
But it does come at a cost: the game is compatible with both 10mHz and 16mHz X68000s, although the 10mHz version has noticeable choppiness during the 3D sections and some significant slowdown in sprite-heavy side-scrolling areas. This naturally means the 16mHz CPU is clearly the way to go if only…
...if only the game wasn’t so hard that the slowdown present in the 10mHz option actually makes it a playable game.
The difficulty is massively uneven too; the first side-scrolling stage was so tough I honestly despaired of ever seeing anything beyond it at one point, then once I finally forced my way through I found the next couple of 3D stages flying past without any real effort on my part. Some of this difficulty is just the result of an old-school shmup playing like an old-school shmup, but even so it’s not particularly unreasonable to expect stage 1 to serve as an introduction to the game and to be easier than stages 2 and 3.
When Knight Arms gets it right you’ll be left agog at the magnificent locations and some exciting and technically impressive ideas; but all too often this will come right before you hit a brick wall that can only be overcome with some tedious repetition and a large dose of luck. Whether this is embraced as part of the game’s retro charms or thumb-breaking annoyance is entirely down to the player’s patience.
Project E.G.G.’s store page for Knight Arms can be found here - click!