June 23, 2015 5:30 AM | Joel Couture
Did her people know her name after she'd saved them from demonic forces? Did anyone remember the little girl who left home with a wooden sword and a smile on her face, ready to stop the world's destruction? Even I don't know the name of the charming, cheerful warrior who stole my heart as we roamed the countryside together, exploring hidden tombs and fighting colossal monsters. All I know is that it's impossible not to get caught up in her boundless, jubilant nature as you go on wild adventures together through Super Chibi Knight.
Super Chibi Knight gave me serious Zelda II flashbacks, but in a good way. The game uses a similar overland view, where you can explore a large map, and touching locations and enemies within it triggers a sidescrolling sequence where you platform and fight monsters. Your character moves at a brisk pace on this map, making crossing it a breeze when you have a lot of places to go. She also moves fast enough that you can dodge around overworld enemies if you don't feel like fighting, which is nice when you're combing the map for secrets areas (which are often invisible) or just want to get to the next stage quickly.
I was in a hurry to explore since there were just so many nice places to look at. Giant hornet nests, bridges guards by goat-hurling trolls, mountains of multi-colored gelatin, and icy castles cover the countryside, and each is filled with huge, colorful landmarks and setpieces. The creatures in these places are just as striking, all animated in a cartoon-like style, reminding me of the over-the-top animations and exaggerated facial expressions of Castle Crashers (which is no surprise given the developer's extensive art history on NewGrounds). Effects are large and impressive, filled with colors and over-the-top gestures. When you or a monster take a hit or attack, the movement is filled with expression and blasts of light and color.
You'll want to get as many monsters freaking out from your rapid fire sword blows as you can, as the game uses an experience system to level up attack, magic, and armor. You can level any of these any time you have the experience on hand, but they all have their own independent costs. So, if you hammer away at leveling strength, eventually its cost will get so high that you may as well grab a cheap level of armor or magic while you wait. It seemed like a pointless system to have, but it kept my choices from unbalancing the game by focusing on only one trait, and also made it easy for me to play catch up if I found I needed magic late in the game but hadn't leveled it at all (hint, hint).
With such an emphasis on colorful artwork, it's no wonder that leveling means getting drastically new suits of armor and varied weapons. Every level of weapon or armor changes those items, moving from wooden swords and a few pieces of metal to a glowing blade and a monstrous suit of gold plates. It added a little extra incentive to level up, although it did disappoint me when I had to leave some favorite equipment behind. I stand by the fact that the pink armor and pigtails is the protagonist's cutest suit, and I was bummed to see it go.
Basic combat is pretty straightforward, but extremely satisfying. The hero can swing her sword fast, carving enemies up and often stun-locking the largest beasts while she cuts them down. You get a few more dramatic flourishes, but mostly, it's just slamming the attack button as fast as you can. She can also move while attacking, so you can toss her into a group of enemies and just chop them up. The way the game makes this more challenging is that enemies move steadily upward or back from your hits, so you have to keep up with them or try to air juggle. Otherwise, they'll recover once they're out of your range, and since most of them only need a split-second to hit back, it's easy to get carried away cutting at an enemy and not notice they're attacking you back.
Even with the highest level armor, you can die pretty fast in this game. Its difficulty tends to be a little all over the place because of this, as you've either stunned the enemy and have them locked down or they're ripping you apart with a few lucky shots. This actually felt like it balanced the difficulty out without taking away from the pure satisfaction of using the hero as a living buzz saw. It's fun to just slam into enemy groups, but without the occasional quick, unexpected recovery, as long as you got the first hit you'd always win. Quick enemy recovery and the hero's low health might make things switch from super easy to totally unfair in a second, but it does maintain balance in favor of fun.
Low health means you can die often, but there isn't much of a cost to it. If you die, you just respawn outside of whatever dungeon or enemy fight you'd been in, able to rush right back in. This is still a major setback in the longer dungeons (if you haven't fund a checkpoint), but the game often remembers any major enemies you've killed or events you've completed when you come back, so even if you don't get a checkpoint, you might not have to re-do much of the level. This can unbalance the game in some areas, but for someone who just wants to relax and kill some monsters or who doesn't have much experience with games, it makes for some simpler fun. I found it made things a little too easy, getting to the point where I'd kill myself if I wanted to hit a level with full health and magic, but I never really minded. This challenge level felt appropriate to the visuals and story. Can't really get mad if a kid's game is too easy, right?
You have a few more combat options beyond basic sword swipes, but these depend on which route you choose to take through the game. After doing a few quests in the first area, you're given the option to take two different routes out of there, but you can only choose one. One route gives you magic spells and the other gives you beasts to ride, both of which change the game in fun ways. Spells give you an edge with basic combat, and if you're looking for the game's harder challenges, they all exist on the magic route. Beasts don't give you the same variety of powers, but they're all adorable giants who just crush the enemy in combat. They make things a little too easy, to be honest, but using them is a blast and is good for someone who just wants to unwind and smash baddies. Given that they're on separate routes through the game, they also encourage repeat playthroughs.
Secrets will do that, too. There are a lot of quests and items that I just never found while playing the game. Most of these give you piles of experience, and it also just feels good to stumble across an invisible path or hidden section. I played through the game twice and didn't find half of what was hidden within it, which makes up for the fact that you can typically finish it within three to four hours on your first go, and likely one to two hours on future runs. It captures the charm of a quick NES game, though, and feels like it's the perfect length to play on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Having all those secrets just gave me a great reason to play it the next Sunday.
If you don't find all of the secrets in a given area before moving on, you may screw yourself, though. The game uses an autosave system that, while normally useful, can lock you into new areas when you meant to explore old ones. I accidentally moved on to the game's second act because I was moving through dialogue too quickly, but couldn't reset the game to an older save to go back. I needed to do a whole other run to make another attempt at finding more early-game secrets. It doesn't take too long and it isn't really a problem, but the autosave can be a bit overzealous for players who don't pay much attention. Just watch out for that, as otherwise, the autosaving makes quitting the game a snap since you know the game has already got you covered. It's saving constantly.
Music and sound are powerful driving points for the game's appeal. It's got several strong, adventurous themes that get you pumped up for combing the countryside. Other soothing tracks made me feel right at home in the hero's house, or helped capture the silly nature of someone's sidequest. The songs that play in the dungeons swell with danger, eventually giving way to the chaotic, tense music that accompanies the game's strange, menacing (and funny) bosses. It's a great soundtrack that helps fuel the childlike-nature of the adventure.
What solidifies its lighthearted nature are the sound bytes for our hero. Her quips and cries, all voiced by the developer's daughter, help bring the hero to life. There was just something about hearing such a young girl shouting battle cries as she swung her sword and the way she got excited over every discovery and victory that strengthened the game and left me smiling. Her voice completes the game and helps frame the heroism as the act of a courageous child, but still one that loves to be silly. Also, it's really hard to stay mad at the game's harder parts when she shouts out a little "Oh no!" upon death. If the colors, bright landscapes, and silly monsters hadn't already driven home the lighthearted nature of the game, her voice would complete it.
Super Chibi Knight isn't especially hard or long, but the quality of its experience can't be denied. It captures a child's wonder in its adventure, meeting danger with positivity and joy alongside determination. It's wonderful to play as such an upbeat, happy hero in an industry so often filled with anti-heroes fighting over bleak landscapes. It's cheery and focused on fun, providing entertaining combat that's as simple or hard as you'd like it to be, and with all with many secrets to keep you coming back for more. You may never learn the name of the heroine of Super Chibi Knight, but I doubt anyone who plays it will soon forget her courage and voice.
The full version of Super Chibi Knight will be available for $8.99 on Steam on June 24th. For more information on the game and Pesto Force, you can head to the developer's site or follow them on Facebook, YouTube, Tumblr, Instagram, and Twitter.