Indie Game of the Week 192: Knightmare Tower

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When I reviewed Ludo Land's Four Sided Fantasy last month, I remarked that it spiritually embodies the frontier spirit of the presently ongoing era of Indie prominence, adapting a format similar to early darlings of the scene like Jonathan Blow's Braid and the soulful imitators that followed. However, I forgot that there was another genre, unique to the Indie development scene, that pre-empted even the puzzle-platformer: the incremental run-based game. Beloved of Flash developers in particular, this sort of roguelite revolves around very short runs where the goal isn't necessarily to reach the end but to earn enough capital to improve your chances of reaching the end in the next run. Instead, you have short-term goals that tend to involve earning enough currency for the next upgrade on the list; maybe unlocking some new feature or increasing your per-run earnings for the more expensive upgrades further down the skill tree. I remember playing games like this all the time on Flash game portals Newgrounds and Kongegrate, so it was a blast from the past to find that this random pick from that enormous Racial Equality Itch.io bundle back in the summer was cut from the same cloth.

Totally in control of the situation.
Totally in control of the situation.

Knightmare Tower has a brave if amorous and greedy knight take on an enormous, ominous tower of evil from the ground floor up, dispensing with anything as pedestrian as taking the stairs by instead launching himself up via a medieval rocket. To keep himself in the air and projecting ever upward, the knight slashes down at enemies beneath him and uses the pogo effect to maintain his vertical momentum. As such, the controls are as simple as moving left or right and hitting the swing button to slash down at whatever happens to be beneath the protagonist, be it an enemy or an item suspended in a bubble. It's important not to miss and fall off the screen, as this will incur a speed penalty and you'll eventually be caught up by a rapidly climbing wall of lava if your velocity dips too far. As you climb the tower, the enemies get stronger and have trickier attacks to avoid, so constantly upgrading is key to making further progress. Each princess you rescue, found at certain distance milestones, also unlocks a new type of collectible or power-up: these tend to include bombs, which clear out all enemies on the screen; horns, which summon a mini-boss that is usually easier and more lucrative to deal with than the standard hordes; and a temporary potion that can also be upgraded, each promotion adding a new effect from invulnerability to increased damage. You can upgrade your sword (more damage), armor (more health), boots (more movement speed), and the rocket (stronger initial launch and less harsh penalties), as well as increasing money gains (I naturally maxed this one first, since it meant upgrading the others faster - the old "pick the XP bonus perk first" tactic) and the means to project yourself upwards even faster.

It's a relatively simple game, from the controls to the upgrade system, and it's unlikely to take more than a handful of hours to take down its unfortunately meme-based final boss, but this simplicity does nothing to diminish the arcade appeal of that core gameplay loop. When the enemies are flying at you from all directions and you're picking out targets while avoiding enemy projectiles, and the lava is starting to creep up making the next miss a permanent one, the game is at its most frantically enjoyable. When you make progress and meet new foes, many of which are damage sponges in the higher areas of the tower, you start to consider how best to take them down with what upgrades are available. The game has a quest system which is somewhat similar to Luftrausers where you're given three objectives plucked from a random pool to accomplish, each with a cash reward, and completing all of them is what unlocks the final boss: despite there being 40 of these quests, they're designed in such a way that by the time you have the upgrades and skill to make it to the top you'll already have unlocked almost all of them in the process. Until you reach that point, they work as short-term targets - like avoiding damage for so many seconds, or killing so many enemies while under the effects of the potion - that you only have to go a little out of your way for to gain a lot of necessary capital for upgrades.

Even if you're beating the tower regularly, you're unlikely to make much more than 30-40k per run, which makes some of these later upgrades both expensive and unnecessary. Still, there is an infinite-length Survival Mode...
Even if you're beating the tower regularly, you're unlikely to make much more than 30-40k per run, which makes some of these later upgrades both expensive and unnecessary. Still, there is an infinite-length Survival Mode...

It didn't surprise me to discover that Knightmare Tower was originally a Flash game on Kongegrate, nor that this polished version was sold on iOS for a year before finally hitting Steam and Itch and the usual suspects in 2014. I haven't been to any Flash portal sites for nigh on a decade but I imagine developers have been experimenting with this oddly compelling structure in some form or another since their heyday, albeit possibly not for much longer given the imminent defunct status of their chosen medium. However, seeing that more elaborate run-based games like Hades and Spelunky 2 are presently rocking the Indie circuit, the spirit of something as fun and flighty as Knightmare Tower is still alive and well in that sense, even if new games in its specific Flash- and browser-ready mold may soon dry up.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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