Hey, What Happened to the Table?
Capcom made the beat-em-up scene a favourite among gamers back in the 90’s. It’s a genre made famous thanks to the legendary Final Fight, but what of Capcom’s other works you might well wonder. In 1994 they decided to port their surprisingly underrated 1991 arcade hit, Knights Of The Round, to the Super Nintendo. This is one particular effort that the magazines “back in the day” would have advised you to steer well clear of. However if you appreciate such well regarded series’ as Final Fight, Golden Axe, Streets of Rage or anything along the line of those, then you are in for a big treat with Knights of the Round (KOTR).
KOTR takes the traditional fighter approach but gives it a neat pseudo-historical theme revolving around the fabled Arthurian legend of classical England. The presentation is of a high standard, really capturing the feel of the medieval period throughout the game.
There are few options from the main title screen available. The only useful ones being the difficulty selection and button layout commands. Also if you’re expecting an elaborate story beyond the tales of Arthur and Excalibur, then this will disappoint, but as a scrolling beat’em’up, it serves its purpose. It’s a fun, all-action experience that blends together little added elements to give a once stale genre that extra nudge in the quality stakes.
From hitting the start button at the title screen, you are treated to a full screen character select where two players can play simultaneously. The player(s) select from a choice of Lancelot, Arthur or Percival and each has their own style and their own pros and cons. At the beginning of each stage, there is a map screen showing what the sub-levels look like; as each stage is split up into different sections, it gives a sense of variety and keeps the player interested enough to want to advance to the next section.
KOTR uses a unique level-up system based on points acquired or certain artifacts found. Rather than picking up weapons or stealing the enemies’, which would have been a nice touch anyhow, this game allows your character to own a distinct weapon and armour that evolves upon further level-up advancement. Another feature is the ability to mount a horse and fight on horseback with the added extra that you can choose to attack using your steed to batter opponents. At the end of each stage, your points are tallied up and another possibility of advancement is available. There are barrels to smash open, treasure to collect and health/food items to find. A nice touch I found was that if you have the time you can choose to hit certain food or treasure items and they will split up into several smaller ones. For example smashing a big teapot tray will split it into several smaller tea related items, the advantage being you can then pick up additional points or split health items if you’re playing with a friend.
The graphics in KOTR is definitely a strong point. Take nearly any Capcom game around the same period of time and you know what to expect. I’d venture to say this is by far the nicest looking beat’em’up I’ve ever played on the SNES; almost arcade perfect or as near as can be in terms of what the console was capable of. Capcom’s trademark graphics and gameplay are in evidence right from the start. The character animations are good despite lacking a few frames when swinging their respective weapon, which can appear to look a little choppy. A good number of different enemies are well represented with a nice variety of designs and attack strategies. The backgrounds scroll smoothly and hold a large amount of detail that look mightily impressive to the eye. From rolling hills, castles, villages, bridges and mountains, the stages are a joy to behold. Everything appears vibrant and colourful and the sprite work is also very nicely defined.
KOTR features a pleasant blend of medieval-type music. It represents the setting well and exudes a feeling of adventure and chivalry. Despite taking a back seat to the dynamic action, most of the composed musical scores are pleasant enough. Though sometimes reappearing in later sections, they never have the feeling of being out of place, thus developing an atmosphere beyond the usual beats and thumps most associated with games of this type. One negative criticism would be that the sound effects when using a weapon or smashing something open can appear tinny or slightly muffled when compared to the rest of the score, but doesn’t detract too much from the overall experience.
Overall then Knights Of The Round is a perfectly acceptable example of its type but is notably exemplified by the sheer quality of the whole package. The presentation and playability is top drawer and the addition of playing with someone else only makes it better. Big bad bosses, excellent music, and gorgeous graphics are undoubtedly Knights Of The Round’s substantial strengths. And let’s not forget the gameplay because that is what makes this possibly the best of the SNES offerings as far as beat’em’ups go.
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