Mobile games tend to fall into two camps – those that seek to stand out in already crowded genres such as the endless runner genre and those that bravely look at carving their own path, seeking to explore the potential of touch control and the other possibilities offered by the medium.
Knightmare Tower is very much a game that falls into the former camp, but that isn’t to its deficit; it’s one of the most enjoyable mobile games that I’ve played all year on iPad and despite being a little light on content, for some reason I keep going back to it. It’s one of the most finely balanced and addictive games we’ve come across on mobile platforms. Originally a browser game before appearing on Ouya and now on mobile platforms, it’s a well-executed little title with a purity of vision that trumps many other games on a larger scale.
The premise is utterly simple: you’re a Knight trying to ascend a tower and rescue a series of Princesses. You do this by launching into the air on a rocket, then attacking an increasingly aggressive and dangerous menageries of monsters to maintain your speed. Each monster you kill by diving down onto their head affords you additional momentum, allowing you climb higher up the tower at in increased rate. You’ll need that momentum because if you fall behind, you’ll soon find yourself under threat from a flow of lava that is inexplicably flooding the tower you find yourself in. In addition, the higher you climb, the more dangerous the monsters become. Starting off with just some minor ghouls, towards the top of the tower you’ll be confronted by disembodied wizard heads, dragons and laser-spewing skeletons.
You’ll also be working towards completing challenges, though these are fairly simple – you’ll be asked to ascend a certain distance without diving, kill a certain number of monsters in a row without taking damage, etc. There are only 40 of these, and completing all of them awards you with a key that unlocks the ultimate boss – a bullet-spewing wooden monstrosity which can be frustrating to overcome, requiring dozens of attempts and needing you to have upgraded your character almost completely before you’ll stand even a ghost of a chance of defeating him.
A series of upgrades helps you to feel as though you’re always making progress. Paid for via gold coins awarded at the end of each run depending on how far you managed to ascend – and also collected in-game – you are able to upgrade your sword, reduce your air friction and add new properties to potion power-up. Though they get increasingly expensive as you level up, the brevity of each run and the amount of gold awarded ensures that it’s never too long before you can improve your gear or your abilities and the knowledge that the next upgrade is only another run or two away makes the game difficult to put down. Thankfully too, there are no micro-transactions here, which many players will find a relief.
In addition to the paid-for upgrades, you’ll rescue a series of princesses at certain points of the tower. Save these damsels in distress and they’ll unlock a series of power-ups that have a chance of spawning when you kill a monster – a bomb will damage everything on screen, a horn will summon a giant beast that provides additional gold and a huge boost to your speed upon death, etc. Each power-up has a few levels of power and you’ll find yourself prioritizing them when they appear as they are incredibly useful, particularly at the highest levels of the tower when things become frantic.
Visually, a hand-drawn art-style evokes memories of Alien Hominid. Everything in the game is bright and colorful but even when things become chaotic, it’s easy to make out each individual element. The audio is also worth mentioning, with some great tunes and sound-effects (you can even purchase the soundtrack separately via the developer’s website).
Control-wise it couldn’t be simpler. Utilizing the gyroscope inside the iPad, tilting the device left or right will see your character move from side to side on the screen, while a simple tap will send your Knight dive-bombing down onto the nearest monster. It works well for the most part, but the lack of fine control can cause some issues towards the top of the tower, when projectiles are spewing forth from all directions and the game takes on almost shmup-like quality.
An additional survival mode – unlocked after completing the main game – provides additional challenge, but really is only useful for comparing your scores with friends or as a fun diversion. There isn’t a huge amount of
content in Knightmare Tower and it’s not something that will stay on your device for long after completion, but while it lasts it’s incredibly good fun.
Four-man studio Juicy Beast may be small, but with Knightmare Tower they have managed to create a rare joy – a game that is not only highly addictive but also demonstrates that well-known gameplay tropes on mobile platforms don’t always have to fall into the category of me-too clones of existing titles. With an attractive art-style, some well-judged difficulty and incredibly addictive gameplay, Knightmare Tower is an absolutely delightful mobile title that is incredibly difficult to put down. You’ll pick it up for 5 minutes and still be playing an hour later – the mark of a truly excellent mobile game.