Retro Respawn – Knights of the Round

Describing where I first played Knights of the Round may prove a tad confusing to younger readers as well as those outside of the UK. You see, back in the day there was a place known as Camelot.

It was a home of knights and knaves.

It was a land of dragons and adventure.

It was just outside of Chorley.

…err, perhaps I should explain? You see, the Camelot I speak off was not the lavish castle and court of King Arthur from the Middle Ages but instead an amusement park in Lancashire with an Arthurian theme. It was always a bit cheap and cheerful, with most preferring to visit the glitzier Alton Towers park in Staffordshire or Blackpool’s famed Pleasure Beach.

However, due to having an affinity for all things medieval, I always really enjoyed my trips to Camelot in my youth, and I would regularly badger my parents to take me. I can only imagine that they relented both to shut me up and also not have to spend the extra pennies it would cost to drive me to Blackpool. Camelot did have some reasonably impressive rides, but what I always enjoyed most when I visited were both the live shows and the arcades.

Popular children’s puppet Sooty had a show running at Camelot for a while, but the event I always looked forward to with eager anticipation was the Jousting Tournament, which saw King Arthur and his knights take on Mordred and his villainous mercenaries. I used to get really amped for this, especially as they’d use real weapons and lances as part of the show. Sometimes I’d get a little bit too into it and would demand that Lancelot, Arthur and co. bring me the heads of their opponents, which would often earn me a stern glare from my folks. Hey, I was young, stupid and full of sugar, sue me!

It was after one particularly violent (yet perfectly safe, these were trained actors, kids. Don’t go jousting in your back garden now) joust that I buzzed into a nearby arcade to play a Capcom side-scrolling beat ’em up based on King Arthur and his knights. I loved Knights of the Round almost instantly. It was bright, colourful, dripping with character and featured blokes swinging swords and axes at each other with reckless abandon. How could I not like it?

Playing this Camelot-inspired game whilst actually in Camelot only enhanced the experience, and it left an indelible memory in my mind forevermore. However, removed from post joustal elation, would the game still provide the same thrills? Sadly not, but the game is still an enjoyable bit of slashing, even if it isn’t as amazing as young Mike thought all those years back.

Knights of the Round gives you the chance to play as King Arthur himself as you venture to far off lands in search of the famed Holy Grail. Along with Arthur, two of his knights are also playable in the forms of Lancelot and Percival. Each character has slightly different attributes and fighting styles. Arthur is your standard “all-rounder”, whilst Lancelot is more nimble and Percival is the proverbial big brick house. Arthur and Lancelot both come armed with swords, whereas Percival prefers to bring an axe into battle with him.

Should you have two friends knocking about with nothing to do, they can join in, meaning all three knights can walk into battle side by side. The game actually employs an RPG-like levelling up system, which makes it stand out a bit from other similar games in the genre. As you defeat enemy soldiers and collect treasure stashed throughout each stage, your fighters will gradually level up. This will cause them to change in appearance. For instance, Lancelot starts out looking like a hippy on his way to a cook out with his long, flowing blond hair, but by the end of the game he’s decked out in armour with his hair looking neater.

It’s fun to see your characters essentially evolve and develop as you advance further in the game, and you’ll soon anxiously await reaching the next level so you can see if and how your character will change. It definitely gives you an incentive to keep plugging away to see what your final form will look like.

Gameplay-wise, KOTR uses a two-button set-up with a button for jump and attack, respectively. Though it is sometimes tempting just to mash the attack button, on more than one occasion it is beneficial to survey the battlefield and act tactically. By pressing attack and the opposite direction to which you are facing, your knight will instigate a block. Should you block successfully, you will get a moment of invulnerability upon which you can use to go on the offensive. This technique is often best used in a one-on-one situation with a boss because, otherwise, you might end up getting swarmed by enemy soldiers.

Enemy soldiers will often try to catch you in a pincer movement, with a group of them distracting you, allowing one to get behind and throw in some cheap shots that will deplete your health. Unlike other Capcom games, such as Final Fight and Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, KOTR doesn’t have a grab/throw that instigates once you make contact with an enemy. This means that when surrounded, you can’t simply grab the guy behind you and chuck him into the amassed throng of opponents in front of you. Due to this, you always have to remain aware of your surroundings.

KOTR includes a collection of zany boss fights which get progressively more difficult as you advance onwards. My personal favourite was the fight with Japanese samurai Muramasa, who combines silky sword skills with the ability to fling fireballs. The downside to the boss fights is that you don’t just get to fight them but also have to contend with a vast array of grunts entering the fray as well. In games based around chaos and mashing buttons like Final Fight, this isn’t an issue, but it’s an annoyance in a game based more around timing and technique like KOTR.

It’s hard enough to time your blocks and counter attacks as it is without having to contend with the bosses’ lackeys as well. I understand that if these enemies didn’t show up, then the boss could conceivably be left at a 3-on-1 disadvantage, but when you play the game in single-player, it gets really frustrating after a while, especially against the more technical bosses where you need to time everything perfectly to get through the battle without taking damage.

Graphically, the game looks lovely, with detailed sprites and backgrounds really adding to the medieval atmosphere. Each class of enemy has its own distinct design, from the scurrying barbarians with their bows and arrows to the pompous, tall knights with their shrill, haughty laughs. Every enemy is oozing with its own unique character. Giant, ferocious tigers explode upon death, magicians teleport across the screen and some of the night levels in particular are gorgeous to look at.

Knights of the Round isn’t without its flaws, but overall I enjoyed going back to it after all these years. Had I had a chance to play it in multiplayer, I probably would have had even more fun with it. These sorts of games really are best enjoyed with friends. The game saw a port to the Super Nintendo, but if you want to play the arcade version, you can do so by either purchasing “Capcom Classics Collection Vol. 2” for PS2 and Xbox or by playing it on the Retro Gaming Box.

Excalibur, ho!

Thanks for reading

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