Rampage Knights wears its influences on its sleeve. It’s a classic-style beat-em-up similar to Golden Axe or Streets of Rage taking place in a procedurally generated world full of upgrades and power-ups that is strikingly reminiscent of Binding of Isaac. Rampage Knights wears these inspirations proudly, shamelessly and with confirmation from Czech developer Rake In Grass. It’s not often that a derivative game manages to successfully pull it off, so you’re probably wondering if and how the game at hand fares in the endeavour.
Rampage Knights: Windows [Reviewed], Mac OS X
Developer: Rake In Grass
Publisher: Rake In Grass
Release Date: 4 September 2015
Price: €11,99 (€17,99 for a 2-pack)[Disclosure: Game copy supplied by Developer/Publisher]
Rampage Knights and days
There is a story of sorts in this game. It goes like this: Goblin Wizard Bad. Goblin Wizard curse heroes. Heroes need kill Goblin Wizard now. That’s pretty much it. The rest of the game consists of traversing a castle and battling monsters and bosses. While it’s perfectly possible to play the game by yourself it’s clear that it was designed with two-player co-op in mind and it’s how I’ve played through 95% of my time with it.
Rampage Knights starts you off in a camp where you can do various things, most of them related to customizing your character. You can have your pick out of multiple versions of both genders, pertaining to various tropes, and multiple hats. You can also choose your class. Normally you start as an Adventurer, but there are various other classes that you need to unlock through in-game achievements and each come with different stats and effects, for example, an assassin has lower health, but can turn invisible, assassinate fallen enemies and double jump, while a barbarian has higher health but is slower and can’t wear armour.
The game is brief in explaining the basics of combat: you wander through 2D maps, navigating along two axes on the ground, much like in Golden Axe or Streets of Rage and defeat enemies in each area. More often than not, defeating all enemies is a prerequisite for progressing. You have a basic attack that swings your weapon, holding it down for a while charges a strong attack and moving left or right with a charged strong attack unleashes a devastating dashing attack that cleaves through enemies and breaks shields for some enemies. Shields can also be broken with jumping attacks. Pressing the attack button when right next to an enemy kicks it instead, which is one of the few ways to knock an enemy prone. Also, attacking near a fallen enemy stomps it, keeping it down and dealing damage.
You can also roll to evade damage, which grants you some invulnerability for a short while, a feature both my girlfriend and I neglected to use for a long time but try to be more aware of the option. Now, while there isn’t any friendly fire in terms of damage in Rampage Knights, but accidentally hitting your companion (and given the wide arcs of the weapon swings this will happen a lot unless you communicate) will send them prone or flying through the air for a bit of a distance. It is important to pay attention to this, because you don’t want to sleep on the couch for having accidentally kicked her into a pit.
The rogue-like aspect of the game means that on normal difficulty and above, both players dying means you need to start all over again with a randomly generated map. The casual difficulty, however, saves your progress at the beginning of each stage and no longer regenerates the map upon failure. Loot drops and enemies are still random. If only one of the players dies, he or she is raised as a ghost that can only deal one damage point to items and enemies, but can knock enemies down and away. If around a dozen enemies die while a character is in ghost form, the chracter will be resurrected with full health. The challenge usually lies in the living player having to clear out a room or two by themselves with only minimal help from their friend.
As mentioned before, the game is heavily inspired from Binding of Isaac as well and this is immediately obvious from the level design. Randomly generated maps based on several layout archetypes, populated by various monsters and enemies. The levels are mostly linear, with some short branching paths leading to some more difficult rooms that contain rewards, or shops. The world is littered with chests that are accessed by playing a short lockpicking minigame.
Items, of course, in true roguelike fashion are many and varied. Weapons ranging from icy battleaxes to ridiculous fantasy swords (the Barbarian starts with a weapon called literally that), armors which protect you for a while but eventually expire, or don’t offer damage protection but offer other effects. Your character can also equip a belt and boots that grant various effects. Boots usually affect movement, while belts affect stats. Additionally, you have four item slots to cycle through and use at your discretion: you have a spell slot which consumes mana, a set of thrown items ranging from stones and knives, to axes and bombs, a scroll that can be anything from an item duplicator to a short-term levitation spell and a potion slot. Potions can either heal you for a set amount of hit points, give you other good or bad effects or even diseases, such as the dreaded “Ass Disease” that either turns you into a donkey or a…well…
Don’t rage at the rampage
My girlfriend and I both had a lot of fun playing Rampage Knights even while yelling at one another. It’s one of those games that start off really frustrating but gets increasingly easier once you learn how to play it and use its systems most effectively. The graphic style is comical and colorful, with enemies that offer the occasional homage to movie characters. What we didn’t like is that it’s sometimes difficult to tell whether or not you’re on the same horizontal axis as the enemy you’re trying to attack which can sometimes mess up a well-planned attack. The music is highly engaging and fits the art style like a glove, while the sound effects are incredibly satisfying. Bone crunches like you think it should, wood splinters under the weight of your jump attack, and your sword swooshes as it cuts the air in a wide arc, cleaving through your foes.
Given the incredibly random nature of the game, however, it’s easy to get screwed by Rampage Knights early on by being denied good gear, which leaves you crippled in a doomed playthrough without you even realizing it until you restart and have a much easier time. This rings true for the single player experience as well, seeing how there’s no one to resurrect you and you only get a limited amount of lives. In short, Rampage Knights wants you to fight with your friends or spouse for a short while, before deciding to start over because of how replayable it is.
Now I feel I need to talk for a bit about the control scheme and the combat system. What I found most fascinating about Rampage Knights is that it achieves so much with so little. Movement, item selection and pickup aside, the game achieves a lot by using very little. All of the moves I listed above: striking, heavy attack, dash attacks, jumping attacks, kicks and stomps are all achieved with the use of a single attack button, the rest being purely contextual. The same goes for using items, drinking potion, throwing ranged weapons or casting spells. Essentially you only ever use one of two buttons to interact with enemies and the environment. I think that, while hard to master, this excellent ease of use is what made Rampage Knights such a great experience for us and I wholeheartedly recommend it to most people looking for a roguelike, a beat-em-up, or just a bit of co-op fun.
While derivative and proud to admit it, Rampage Knights manages to be more than just the sum of its parts. It blends the games it is influenced by into something new and exciting. It compromises neither style nor vision and comes out proudly on top as its own game.