"Rock on, Arthur."

I'm not going to claim myself an expert in the side-scrolling beat-em-up genre. The only game from this crop that I ever truly loved was TMNT: Turtles in Time, which I maintain is a flawless game and the benchmark to which I hold all my beat-em-ups. I have no real right to weigh in on the game too heavily, but on its own terms, Knights of the Round is a flawed but reasonably enjoyable excursion into medieval grunt slaying. Generic though it may be, the game still glides by on a relatively unique setting and fun gameplay to make it worth completing.

That is, if you can complete it. Perhaps it's my lack of proficiency with this type of game, but I found Knights of the Round surprisingly difficult. Easy is moderately difficult, Normal's hard and God only knows what Hard has to offer. I recently played through the game on Normal and it revealed some fairly surprising balance issues that I'd never noticed when I first played it. Taking one hit from an enemy, even the lowest of the lowly soldiers, will knock 25% off of your health bar without remorse. Further, almost all enemies can chain on an additional two attacks to their first without giving you any opportunity to dodge or block, which is ridiculously cheap. Foods such as chicken and fruit restore a little more than half of your dwindling health, and they are not as common as they should be. And those nine credits that you get suddenly become a lot less impressive when you realize that you only have two lives per credit. All of this inflates the challenge of the game, and that's without discussing the actual mechanics.

You are given a block and a jump function in an attempt to forestall your rapid and imminent death, but they're a little bit shady and not as practical as they should be. Mid-air hit detection is really wonky, and Knights of the Round has trouble determining whether or not you're on the same plane as your opponent. Jumping can help you out of a few situations, but it's risky. Blocking is a little more reliable - if you intercept an enemy hit, you get a precious few seconds of invulnerability with which you should wail on them. But if you hold down the block button for too long, your character just stops cold. Basically, you need to predict exactly when the enemy's attacks will come, which can be fairly difficult. Most have a discernible pattern, but there really was no need to have such a bizarre block function, especially one that massively screws you over if you mess up.

These are fairly significant problems in the game, but it deserves to be commended for several other aspects as well. The Middle Ages were a cool time, and everyone loves Arthurian legend, so Knights of the Round offers up a surprising dash of flavor to its proceedings. It also tries to incorporate a level-up system based on the enemies you kill and the items you pick up all throughout the level. Supposedly, your stats grow as your level does, but I'm not entirely sure that they do. I never noticed a pronounced difference in my speed, damage or defense. Still, it's a neat system, and it's also very helpful because your health bar fills up once you gain a level.

It's also worth mentioning that the game is incredibly fun when you play it with another person. Knights of the Round is seriously helped out by its multiplayer; cutting your way through hordes of Garibaldi's knaves is that much more enjoyable with a friend by your side. It also makes the game much less challenging, which I think we can all appreciate.

I'm also a big fan of the game's aesthetic presentation. The graphics are beautifully designed and surprisingly well-animated; Capcom treated this game lovingly, despite its low-key release (it was apparently an arcade game before it came to the SNES, but didn't seem to find much success on either platform). There's a lot of palette-swapping amongst the enemies, and even a bit in the bosses, but they are great designs. The bosses, especially, look awesome, except you won't have time to appreciate it while they're kicking your ass. The soundtrack is synthy and energetic, and the tunes are actually quite memorable, though not absolutely amazing.

Knights of the Round may have been a minor blip in the SNES's library, but to me it was always a surprisingly important title. Though not as amazing as I'd remembered it, it still merits a playthrough, especially on two-player. You may find yourself occasionally frustrated, but that's what video games did back then, and there will be far more enjoyable patches than irritating ones.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 07/06/07

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