Knight Crawlers is a roguelike crawler game developed by the husband and wife at Good Morning Games. Their debut title is certainly full of charm, and I can tell that the team probably had a great time making the game. In some places, however, the game seems to suffer from an identity crisis and packs in what appear to be developer limitations such as “features” to make for a game that feels a little muddled, if not rich in character.
To first delve into the confusing package that is Knight Crawlers, it’s important to note one of the game’s biggest features. Knight Crawlers claims to prominently feature a “physics-based combat system” as a key component of its gameplay. For those who don’t know what that means, a physics-based combat system is one where the physics of actual movement are simulated and used in battle.
Momentum is your most powerful tool in games like this, a kind of pseudo-realism that straddles the line between pressing a button to kill an enemy and playing a VR game where you actually have to swing a sword. In good examples of this type of game, your sword has to be swung hard enough to pierce shields, and you can escape from enemy attacks and slam them with the shoulder to the ground, often with nothing more than your movement controls. Physics-based combat in games is basically a whole subgenre that has its fans.
So does Knight Crawlers have the physics-based combat engine it claims to have? The answer.. I’m not really sure. I don’t really feel like it.
Have you ever played Gang Beasts? Knight Crawlers uses the same wobbly physics in the player character and all of the enemies that games like Gang Beasts do, simulating what I imagine walking across a sea of jello. Your character swings, hits things, and will dangle hilariously over death, as will all of your enemies.
The problem is that the actual combat mechanics aren’t quite the same as Gang Beasts or similar games, which tinker with weird physics for the sake of comedy. Instead, Knight Crawlers is really just an idle clicker with ragdoll physics. Killing enemies will trip them up, but I didn’t really feel like there was any physical combat in the game, especially when the only form of attack was a static slash, centered on my character’s body, that hit everything in the game. 360 degree circle around me.
There’s no swinging your weapons, shoulder tapping, charging, or other physics-based mechanics in Knight Crawlers to warrant the claim. You can’t even take down enemies, which was a little disappointing. However, they will fly again when they die, concentrating on the walls, and rolling joyfully on the floor. Some of the attacks also have great momentum, but they feel few and far between in my opinion.
The game has a gritty clash in its presentation which I found really distracting. The levels are beautifully designed, and the card system (which is the game’s light rogue perks) features beautiful artist illustrations Ng Jian ZiSo, this beautiful world is filled with low poly characters who pull their weapons behind them, and implement beautiful combat effects with no animations whatsoever. Incidentally, the animations, such as swinging the wand or swiping the sword, could have made better use of the physics engine than the circle-tilted “undo” button that’s in the game now.
As a rogue lite, the game is basically solid, if not lacking in anything you haven’t seen before. Each level contains hordes of enemies that you must eliminate in order to continue to the next level. Clearing a room gives you a bunch of random perks to help you build a structure, and special items and weapons can be found to better fight the hordes.
The game prides itself on being able to summon enemies however you want, which is true, but it’s a feature that also feels kind of overwhelming to me. I think the idea is that you can summon as many or as few enemies in a room as you like, facing off against a handful or a huge horde for more exciting combat. However, you still need to defeat a certain amount to unlock the next room, and portals have some kind of cooldown between matings, so you can’t really spread spam too much easily. This kind of system seemed like a way to slowly guide enemies if you chose to do so.
Perks in the game mostly have invisible stat increases like “gain 125 health” or “gain 25% chance of winning”. This is an awful offense to some gamers, who hate stat-based combat, but I found it a bit unexciting. The game also features a passive projectile system similar to Vampire Survivors in addition to the game’s collectible weapons and perks. These attacks get more sophisticated later in the game, becoming more like powerful spells you can cast. This system is very powerful, and it explains why your attack in combat is rather basic, but I feel like they could still do more.
I don’t want to be mean to Knight Crawlers. As an experiment, it is certainly not without merit. However, the game design feels confusing, like the team wanted to do too many things without really committing to any of it. The game has a wealth of potential, and that’s kind of the biggest problem for me; I feel that this potential has not been tapped.
The criticism wouldn’t be constructive if I didn’t give my suggestions to the team on how to improve the title.
For starters, I’d like to add a melee attack animation; Make the physics of your game count by having the player position themselves for the optimal swing. Giving yourself room to launch a full swing could be the difference between giving enemies a little love and sending them flying with a real homer. Movement also becomes more important when you are under enemy attacks to physically dodge them.
I think you should focus on the art of the game a little more than that, too. Throughout the game’s promotional materials, you see a dark, edgy yet sweet style that looks like someone’s been satiating Dark Souls. This view is severely betrayed by the in-game models, which appear to be fluctuations of assets that don’t belong in the world at all. I think the game could have really done with more focus on keeping its art style consistent.
The last word
Knight Crawlers is a game that I hope I like. While some players will certainly find a solid, if brief, experience in the title, I found myself too distracted by the game’s seemingly untapped potential to truly immerse myself in it. I’m not saying skip it, but personally I’ll stay tuned for some big updates before I play again.
Knight Crawlers review on PC. Find more detailed looks at popular and upcoming titles in the game reviews section of our website! Knight Crawlers is available on steam.