To arms! In armor!

Hail and well met, good sir-knight. Put on your plate armor, don your helmet, and pick up your….gun? Wait, no sword? Well, that’s a bit different, and so are the creatures you must confront and destroy to save the kingdom.

Knights & Guns is a 2D action game where you run back and forth shooting the invading monsters. The twist here is that you can only shoot straight up. The monsters float and bounce over your head, so you need to work on your timing to hit them.

The basic premise of the story goes like this; you are a knight, and there is an invading army of monsters destroying the kingdom. You have to use a new weapon called a “gun” to kill the monsters and save the kingdom. An additional challenge is that the leader of your knightly order has been corrupted, and you will need to deal with that later.

At the start of each level, you can accept the default weapon you are given or you can spend some of your hard-earned coins to buy a different weapon. Each level consists of a single screen where you can run to the left or right. Sometimes you get platforms you can jump up on, which has its own pros and cons. Since the monsters are bouncing overhead, being on a platform puts your head closer to the danger, but you can avoid ground-based monsters or collect some coins which have landed on the platform. When you kill a monster, you get coins, but you have to go to the coin to actually collect it.

Your attacks include a standard shot from your gun or a special attack which hits everything on the screen. If the monsters are weak, this can destroy up to everything on the screen (but don’t count on it…). The left Joy-Con stick moves you left and right, the A button shoots, the Y button is your special attack, the B button charges (runs), and the R button jumps. There are not a lot of controls, and it is worth the time to get comfortable with all of them. The charge feature is handy because you can destroy monsters on the ground without taking damage. The downside is that you don’t earn any coins this way.

The game lays out the levels as squares on a map grid. You can access a new grid/level by either buying your way in with coins or clearing the previous level. You also get the option to choose which direction on the grid you will go—it isn’t just a single path. You have unlimited ammo when you are playing a level, but there are two things to consider: your rate of fire isn’t that great (even with the machine gun), and you have to take time to reload. The reload time is relative to the weapon—a shotgun pauses for a moment between each shot, the pistols and the automatic rifle need to reload between clips. There are other fun weapons, but they become available as you progress through levels (and have enough coins to buy them).

This is a bit of a pain point. With some levels, you have to buy your upgraded weapon each time you play the round. This is not a situation where once you buy a feature it is yours for the rest of the game, which is a bit unfortunate. When it comes to your special attack, there is a recharge period, so be careful where you use it.

Speaking of the game economy, there is a store in which you can purchase things like books, armor, power potions, and extra lives/health. Be careful how you spend your coins; the extra lives are helpful, but expensive, and the game is not forgiving if you run out of lives and have to grind through some lower levels to earn more coins. Some of the “upgrades” are cosmetic and should probably just be handed out as you advance, but there you are.

As for the looks and sound, the game is pretty solid. One gripe I will level is that the health meter is a percentage number displayed at the top left of the screen. The number is pretty small and it takes some attention to focus on it, which leaves you distracted from the action. If your hit points get very low, you’ll get a red haze at the edges of the screen. This reminds me that, at random points in a round, killing a creature may drop a first aid kit. It only restores a set percentage of health; it is not necessarily an instant restoration to 100%.

All this is well and good, but there is one more feature that may make this game a bit more fun for you—there is a two-player mode. Yes, you and a friend can team up to blast baddies into oblivion. Of course, this means the game will throw more baddies at you, but that’s what makes it a challenge.

All things considered, Knights & Guns has a fair set of pros and cons. The game looks good and the sound effects are OK, but the story is predictable and the voice acting is a bit cheesy (not in the good way…sorry, guys). You get plenty of levels and a choice between campaign and endless mode, but the rewards are not always enough to keep up with the upgrades. Running around while shooting only upwards is relatively uncomplicated, but the small print indicators for your stats are a distraction that can get you killed if you actually try to read them. There is good playability, but the game could use some refinement.