Knuckleheads is the latest pixel-licious platforming fiesta from Nitrome, the creators of Dirk Valentine, Cheese Dreams, and 9,372 (roughly) other colorful Flash adventures. This time, you guide a pair of grimacing heads wearing Mexican wrestling masks as they bash their way through 25 levels of bats, spikes, and deadly lava. Why are they so angry? Maybe it's because their only method of locomotion involves constant trauma to the skull. Why are they wearing Mexican wrestling masks? I ...don't know.
The Knuckleheads are tethered together by a unbending chain, so controlling them is a bit like steering a giant dumb-bell. Hold [right] to rotate clockwise and [left] to go counter-clockwise. One of the heads will grip the earth, allowing you to pivot the other through the air; they travel end over end, taking big, clubbing steps across the ground and plowing along sticky walls and ceilings. You can extend the chain linking them together by pressing [up] or retract it with [down], in order to bridge gaps or step between spikes. The [WASD] keys serve the same purpose as the arrow keys.
Combat involves bashing enemies with either the green Knucklehead or the purple one. Conveniently, almost every character in the game comes outfitted in purple and green as well, so you know which head they need to be pummeled with. The south-of-the-border visual style extends to the creatures, but not to the industrial factory setting, which makes me wonder if the concept for Knuckleheads was fueled by a short but intense experience with tequila.
Analysis: I've never played anything quite like Knuckleheads. Obstacles that would be trivial for an agile hero like Mario are mind-warping when you have to steer an awkward pair of stomping galoots through them. But that doesn't stop Nitrome from throwing scads of Mario-esque traps at you—rotating fire sticks, rising lava and all. If in the past you've complained about Nitrome launching their games' difficulty into the stratosphere after the first 8 levels, then welcome to another nightmare. But if you're in the market for unusual skill-based challenges, then pull up a chair. The combination of quirky physics and unforgiving pitfalls will keep you entertained for a while.
Where this game really lets me down is in the destruction department. You'd think that a pair of POed bowling balls would get to smash up the environment a little, but besides crushing a handful of glass bonus capsules for points, our heroes feel surprisingly light and vulnerable. Because every enemy in the game is poisonous to at least one Knucklehead, you never get to just wantonly rampage through dozens of puny challengers. Instead, this is a game of precision—one tense, precarious situation after another. Fun, yes, but it feels antithetical to the premise. If I have a heavy, powerful protagonist, then I darn well want to feel heavy and powerful, even if it takes an army of helpless cannon fodder to make the point.
You can also play the game at the MTV Arcade.