Proving oneself is the most important quest a squire could undertake to reach knighthood. Combining multiple gameplay styles into one plane, you could say Last Knight abides by a similar code.
Though some lasts are associated with relief – as in the last piece of furniture in a moving truck – they more often embrace finality. In Last Knight, it’s not a matter of you being the kingdom’s last hope, which would surely involve pressure of the healthy kind. Nothing to do with bravery at all, it’s because you’re the last to know.
For all intents and purposes, you’re the game’s pariah. You discover from the king, after he’s sent out his most valiant men, that the princess has been kidnapped and you’re to chase after her with your horse and hand-held lance. Jousting as a game mechanic isn’t explored too often nowadays, so right away Last Knight has an edge, though this doesn’t make it an edgy creation in a tonal sense.
The game adopts a cozy, cartoonish vibe that translates to some comical and quirky delivery – to the point of abnormal – and creates a world with fanciful hazards and aids. Examples including frogs with super-long tongues, poisonous bulbs and unicorns that can use rainbows as bridges. It’s as if portions from a jester’s tales are sprinkled across fields, fields subject to weather patterns that affect the terrain in smooth ways.
Story Mode’s five chapters will guide you through forests, cave interiors, platforming-esque roads, fog-covered graveyards and volcanic settings, progressively demanding more in the way of precision, control and timing between jumps.
Evil knights you come across – referred to as Buckets – are to be knocked out of commission using your lance, which is where the jousting mechanic comes in. But you’ll find this initial push for a contact sport gets evened out and the game cements more of a case for evasion, where getting walloped by hurdles or enemies will show off the game’s toned-down ragdoll physics to inject some personality into how you perish.
Racking up points – whether through coin collection, piercing enemies or furthering the combo system through narrow misses – will go towards new character unlocks and upgrades. Through them, you’ll be exposed to new abilities, or perks, that allow for some experimentation in temporary time control, invisibility and offensive behaviours. These work to create a buffer for the game, dodging the need for a more distinct gimmick. Even still, the game is very much a one-tricky pony, moderate amusement notwithstanding.
It’s not overt about this in the required actions or pace, but Last Knight does bear qualities of a runner. And under that framework, you could say it’s less expected to be more chivalrous in its creativity. But the Knightmare stages beg to differ.
These strongly warp the standard environments for dreamscape effects, turning sideline elements into dancing jelly (though still retaining their form) and staining the colour scheme, often doing so with additional filters that affect your judgment of draw distance. These phases of deformation are the best Last Knight has to offer because they’re so outlandish. An unintended side-effect is that the rest of the game appears more low-key for not broadening this divergence in vision, which accounts for less than half of the game’s current content.
Level generation outside of Story Mode is more randomized, making the endless modes – and along with that, the quest system and broad unlock list – the main source of replay value after securing medals. But this is a game that underwhelms the more you play, making Surprise Surprise Mode a sure favourite for those fond of the Knightmare stages.
Also its own boon is the Mutators area, featuring a surplus of wacky customizations that will bring you back to the days where you entered ‘Big Head’ cheats in Tony Hawk games and the like. Through this menu, you can also switch perspectives to a first-person or bird’s-eye view for added challenge, but the former doesn’t work well in practice and the latter has tweaks of its own to be accommodated.
Sadly, Last Knight’s otherwise approachable polish is undermined by a host of technical problems, glitches and bare audio design. Even registering for the intentional simulation of a horse’s trod, the camera is very jittery to an extent that it will be found disruptive. On seven different occasions, I ran into a glitch wall where, although the running animation continued, my character was unable to move forward – only left and right. And although the medieval-themed music is suitable (albeit also not memorable), some of it loops to the point of great nuisance – especially irksome is the audio and really the overall treatment of the panoramic cutscenes.
Last Knight isn’t particularly sharp in how it escorts sudden quarrels to lay down a sense of adventure, but it does achieve when it comes to applying action and platforming focuses to its pseudo-runner framework, still remaining gimmick-free. In some ways ordered and in others exciting in its arrangement, the stronger qualities – of wild diversions, well-adapted pace, and comical undertones – do relay subtle bursts of joy, even though divisions are created from a technical (and, on occasion, mechanical) standpoint.
In the quest for admiration and respect, though it won’t be given an invitation to join the Round Table, Last Knight maintains its likeable disposition enough to earn a measure of both.
Last Knight, by Toco Games, is out now for PC and Mac (reviewed).