Knightfall: Death and Taxes
Fans of puzzle adventures rejoice! Knightfall: Death and Taxes, the third installment in Megadev's popular match-3/rpg hybrid series has finally arrived. When last we left our storybook couple, Knight and Princess were enjoying a quiet life in a forest cabin complete with requisite pile of riches and gold just out front. As some of our more astute readers may have already picked up on, leaving vast amounts of money and highly valuable baubles on the front lawn may pose certain security flaws.
While our hero from the first two Knightfall games snoozes away, thieves come along and abscond with the riches like, well, thieves in the night. This, as I'm sure you could imagine, puts something of a damper on Knight's morning coffee when he realizes that the lovely view just outside his home is missing exactly one massive pile of gold. There's only one thing for it. Time to don the armor and drill again and head out to reclaim what is rightfully his. This time, however, Knight isn't the only one setting out for adventure as Princess has also fitted herself with armor and plans on setting out with her giant spinning fan blade of death (or, technically, a giant seed. But whirring death blade seems equally descriptive).
Gameplay remains relatively unchanged from the previous installments. Each dungeon is comprised of a series of stages where your prime objective is grabbing all the keys and making your way to the exit. This is accomplished by clicking on and destroying clusters of three or more same-colored blocks. As blocks are destroyed, whatever was resting on them, including Knight or Princess (Princess is now a playable character), will fall down. You can also rotate the board by 90 degrees in either direction by either clicking the arrows on screen or using the [arrow] keys. Each cluster will cost you one AP point, and you can destroy single or double blocks as well, but at a higher AP price. Pay close attention to your AP because once you run out, each time you remove blocks you're going to lose some health instead.
Running out of AP isn't the only way to take on damage. In each level you'll be confronted with hoards of monsters, each with its own unique attack. Usually you can attack by either landing on them from above if you're controlling Knight, or, new to this game, letting them land on you if you are playing as Princess. Keep your wits about you, though, as this doesn't always work and some monsters may take a little ingenuity to overcome. The good news is that slaying monsters yields gold which can be used in the fairy stores to buy everything from armor to rings, and experience points that allow you to increase in character level thus upping your max HP and AP.
When you're not busy crawling through dungeons you'll travel around on the overworld map where you can stop at the local pub to listen to some gossip or stay the night to rest up. You'll also come across the aforementioned fairy stores, places where you can do some odd jobs for extra cash, and event based locations where the story behind Knightfall unfolds. Like Knightfall 2, some dungeons even include bosses that will put your block destroying wits to the test. Survive long enough and just maybe you'll get to the bottom of your missing loot and this mysterious Taxman that seems to be terrorizing the land.
Analysis: It seems very much like the folks at Megadev took the old maxim, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," to heart. One can appreciate the temptation to upgrade, update, and change everything, but Knightfall: Death and Taxes, remains true to the formula that helped endear it to its fans and I can't express how much this is a good thing. From the gorgeous SNES era graphics to the compelling and addictive gameplay, this rendition of Knight's adventures is everything Knightfall fans could expect only so much more.
And when I mean more, I mean lots more. Completing story mode alone will put you through at least 100 stages of block breaking, monster drilling fun, and then you still have another character to play through with as well as several other modes including an endless dungeon and a survival mode where you protect a puppy.
Also, don't get scared off when I point out that Knightfall adheres to its old formula. One of the more impressive aspects of Death and Taxes is how much innovation is involved within the boundaries of the formula. Some of this comes from the introduction of Princess as a playable character. After using Knight for so long, playing Princess will really require you to alter your strategy and perspective. Most of the innovation, though, takes place in the form of the multitudes of enemies you will face and the bosses. Old favorites (or not so favorite depending on how much of a headache they gave you) like the Dragons and the Gazers return, but newbies like the Vampire not only add some variety, but also some cranium exercise to the mix; not all of the standard monsters you meet here can be killed by simply drilling down (or spinning up) on them. We also got a taste on how creative Megadev can get with the bosses in Knightfall 2, and they have taken that to a new level with boss fights that add a whole new dimension of strategy and puzzling to the mix. This is particularly refreshing as it's all too easy to make boss fights simply repetitive and long, whereas Knightfall uses the opportunity to throw new curveballs your way.
Also available for iOS:
- Knightfall: Death and Taxes (iPhone/iPod Touch)
One of my favorite aspects of this Knightfall game, though, is the many noticeable improvements that come almost directly as a result of addressing player feedback from earlier games. Map navigation (though still not perfect) is much improved, dungeons can by replayed for grinding purposes, and you can sell off items at the fairy store if you're strapped for cash. All of these improvements and more appear to be direct answers to suggestions made to the earlier games from readers such as you, and while none of these improvements is individually earthshaking, they all come together to create a package that is tight and a pleasure to play.
While this is clearly the best in the series, it is in no way perfect. For instance, I would have really liked to see a little more tightness in the story-telling department. The opening cut scene, lacking any useful text, relies too much on assumptions and can be a little confusing. Further, as you travel from map to map, each section has its own little story on top of the broader arc, and sometimes it can be a trial keeping everything straight. This isn't to say that the narrative is that bad; some of the smaller plots are well told and I love Knightfall's abrupt and breezy humor, it's just that tying everything back to the main thread could have been better executed. Also, I should mention that having some non-Knightfall-like mini-games to break up the action would have done wonders. As it is, you do come across odd jobs that attempt to play this role, but whether its sheep herding or collecting gold in a sack, it's still the same match three game with slightly shifted rules. It's a step in the right direction, but a bigger step would have been appreciated.
But make no mistake, this is the ultimate Knightfall. Great gameplay, visuals, music, and characters come together in a dungeon diving, block busting romp. Whether you're a die-hard Knightfall fan, or have never played the series but love well built match-3 action, you simply don't have an excuse to avoid this game.