How Metroidvania is it? High Fit. While fairly open, Knifeboy differs slightly from the spaghetti pattern of the traditional Metroidvania level design and opts for a hub area where all the stages shoot off from that. Other than that, it’s very Metroidvania.
Primary Challenge: Melee Combat
Time to beat: ~6 hours
Review Info: The Steam review code for Knifeboy was provided by the Developer.
Buy Knifeboy if you like…
- Expansive and High-Variety level design
- Combat as an overpowered fist fighter
- Bonkers story and visuals
- Single-Person made games
- Fighting against THE MAN
▼ Review continues below ▼
Note: Since the original posting of this review on Steam, the developer has responded and has patched some of the technical issues discussed in the below text. You can see the developer’s response here.
My normal approach to reviewing games is to try and get all of the positive features out of the way first and then dive into my criticisms. This lets me try and sell you on the idea of the game first before I disclose factors that might be deal breakers for you. For Knifeboy I’m going to turn that upside down, since I feel that for a lot of people its issues are something of an elephant in the room if you’ve just watched the trailers. This may serve as an early confirmation bias for some, but for the open-minded of you, I beg of you to stick around to the end of this review. Knifeboy is another one of those big surprises that I’ve had the opportunity to play as part of this Metroidvania Review project.
The world of Knifeboy is visually striking – it’s a style that you’ll either love or hate. Characters are either straight-up grotesque or based on some drug-addled fantasy where having a horse head or being a blue guy in a loin cloth is perfectly normal. Close up, I personally found this style very appealing, and definitely appropriate for the game’s theming. The game spends most of its time zoomed out, however, making it hard to appreciate the comic-book details of the characters. You’re able to zoom in any time you want with the push of a button, but for the purposes of the gameplay the smaller sprites and bigger game world was a wise decision. Unfortunately it creates something of a clash of styles, where textures can run together, or simply don’t look very good at the default distance. For the platforming and gameplay, this is really only a problem in the game’s hub area where consequences are the lowest – it’s difficult to tell what is a platform and what isn’t. Just climbing back up to the hub after falling off is bound to be a frustration for someone playing the game early on. The actual levels however use contrasting dark backgrounds with light platforms, so it’s never an issue when it matters.
The initial moments of the game definitively give an impression that this is an amateur designer’s game. Enemies sort of quietly walk up to you and you can stunlock them to death pretty easily with a three-hit combo. For a game that advertises itself as a “Mortal Kombat” style game, the combat is actually very basic – or at least there isn’t any reason to go beyond the basics. Enemies that are as tall as you can easily be grouped together to punch to death with low consequences. Larger enemies seem like they COULD be challenging at first, but if you jump to punch them in the face, they get stunned just as easily. You’re given an overdrive technique from the beginning that appears to be useful for hitting these giants perfectly, but I found that the startup time was too much of a liability to use it. Bosses are slightly better designed, having patterns where you’re forced to dodge, but even for them spamming the punch button is the primary strategy.
Platforming can be slightly more interesting than the combat, especially as you unlock new movement upgrades. However, the physics and collision detection lacks polish, making everything seem just a little loose. There were a few times I shunted up onto a platform I obviously wasn’t supposed to be able to reach, and once I even skyrocketed through the ceiling and had to reset my game.
I read a lot of negative reviews on Steam, so I’m well aware that for a LOT of people the technical issues that Knifeboy has are completely unacceptable. First impressions definitely weren’t good, and I initially let out a deep sigh that I was in for another hard one to get through – a disheartening feeling since I really don’t like giving out bad reviews any more than I like to frustratingly charge through a game just to say I completed it before reviewing it. But here’s the crazy thing… Frustration never came with Knifeboy. In fact, I found myself excited to play it again after I finished my daily responsibilities, which is nuts.
Allow me to put on my pretentious hat for a minute… The story in Knifeboy is somewhat incoherent – or at least it seems that way at first. The text for dialogue and comic book pages are riddled with grammar errors and egregious spelling issues. But all of these issues are almost the point of the story… The titular Knifeboy is insane, and the entire game could be interpreted as being viewed through the lens of an unreliable narrator. The awkward way that you view comic book cut scenes while riding on a gondola, the game’s glitches and simple combat; it’s almost art when taken within the context of the story overall. If you’re the type who likes to do literary analysis, Knifeboy is one of the deeper games I’ve experienced. For people that don’t care about putting on some hipster glasses and discussing game symbolism on internet forums, this might not be a feature for you – but it’s definitely something that appealed to me.
The biggest surprise, however, is that if you can look past the technical issues that Knifeboy suffers from, the game is actually quite good. Level design never feels padded. With every new power the game’s challenges build upon themselves. Checkpoints are generous and getting hit by traps doesn’t actually deal damage, letting you try platforming sections as many times as it takes. The only way to truly die is in combat, but this is where your overpowered three-hit combo actually shines and becomes a tool for power fantasy rather than a boring slog. There’s only one real save point in the game at the hub world, which is a bummer, but every level has intelligently placed shortcuts to help you get back in the action if you do fail. I already mentioned that the bosses are a step above in terms of combat, but ignoring the “punchy punchy” aspect of the fights, the sheer creativity of the monsters makes the encounters entirely worthwhile to experience. The glitches and physics problems would definitely be game breaking if Knifeboy was more punishing, but the game is designed around its weaknesses. It makes me wonder even more if problems were the result of conscious genius rather than from just a lack of programming experience. Whichever it is, there is definitely an awareness in the construction, and once you get used to it there’s fun to be had.
I’m not going to lie and say that Knifeboy stands up to games that are obviously more polished than it is, but it’s maybe the best unpolished game I’ve looked at – or at least it’s the most interesting. Its strange world and bonkers story is unique, which makes it something I can’t recommend enough, especially if you’re into working out the details of what may be a brilliant satire. The narrative is something that will likely haunt me for weeks to come. Most importantly though, for the purposes of rating this game, it was never boring to me; I always felt like I had something to look forward to. If you took one look at the game’s trailer and judged it based on only those surface assets and apparent designs, I urge you to not judge this book by its cover. Beauty, sometimes, isn’t only skin deep.
A simple three hit combo could potentially carry you through the game, but the combat is also never frustrating
There are some great platforming challenges, though the physics could be tighter
Finding comic books opens up one of the best features of this game - Its story. Additionally you're given heavy hints on where to go next, but only your exploration will get you there.
There really aren't any puzzles outside of hacking boxes that are pretty easy to figure out
As strange and incoherent as it might seem, the story actually can be pretty deep if you're willing to interpret it that way
Knifeboy's style is striking, though the general gameplay is often done in areas with contrasting textures that aren't as visually appealing
The music has some extreme highs and lows, from songs that will haunt your brain, to basic instrumental ambience that could be a lot better
There aren't any features to get you to come back - this is a completionist's game
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