Before EGX Rezzed 2018, I’d never really found an adventure game that I’d properly clicked with. Granted, I began playing games long after the golden years of point-and-click adventures like The Secret of Monkey Island and Full Throttle. When I tried my hand at Double Fine’s Broken Age last year, I found it a chore to play and even more difficult to properly enjoy.
Then along came Knights and Bikes, a game merely published by Double Fine, but still a game that nonetheless retains the aesthetic of Double Fine classics. It’s a game about “childhood, friendship, and imagination” according to lead Knights and Bikes developer Moo Yu, and one that effortlessly captures a feeling of adventure, letting me barrel on from combat to puzzles without ever confounding me for too long.
Knights and Bikes is simple—you can tell that from a single glance at the game—but it’s not too simple. You play as one of two children, either on your own or with a partner playing by your side, journeying through their hometown on an adventure entirely of their own making. There’s no world ending crises’ here in Knights and Bikes, it’s just pure childhood bliss that developers Foam Sword have so effortlessly captured.
Childhood bliss is meant to be uncomplicated, and Knights and Bikes plays as such. The kids Nessa and Demelza race each other through streets, from combat with crabs using yo-yos and sticks to puzzling their way through a scrapyard in an attempt to raise a submarine from the depths of the lake with a crane. Our heroes are scrappy and plucky in the face of danger from animals and traps alike, but you know they’ll definitely be scolded if they’re late home for dinner.
With a charming 2.5D aesthetic, there’s nothing ‘normal’ or ‘ordinary’ about the way Knights and Bikes looks, and it’s a similar story with the way the game was funded. Foam Sword boasts just two full-time members of staff: creative lead Rex Crowle and gameplay programer Moo Yu, both based in London. Knights and Bikes began as a passion project for the pair, evolving over “evenings and weekends” while the duo were working contract jobs, as Yu tells me.
The tiny dev team of Foam Sword turned to Kickstarter to raise the necessary funds for Knights and Bikes two years ago in early 2016. There wasn’t any hesitation about turning to Kickstarter to raise the funds for Knights and Bikes either. Yu “didn’t really worry about the negative side of it,” although there have been numerous Kickstarter projects that have failed due to a negative response from their potential audience. Yu attributes this to a “miscommunication issue.”
In fact, Yu claims that there are benefits of launching a project on Kickstarter when compared with the traditional route of announcing a game on social media. “When you announce your game on Twitter, you get mixed feedback and you don’t know where it’s coming from," Yu says. "Whereas with Kickstarter, you know all these backers have put money into this project, and they believe in what you’re doing. If they say they don’t like the direction in which things are going, you really have to pay attention to it.”
Tweeting really is the equivalent of screaming into the void, and so it’s entirely reasonable for Foam Sword to turn to Kickstarter as a more dedicated platform for feedback from their backers. But in 2018, things have definitely changed for the crowdfunding platform since it first launched nearly a decade ago in 2009. We’ve seen partners on projects abscond with the money raised for their game to buy a house. We've seen Comcept struggle to deliver on backer rewards for Mighty No. 9 over a year after release—culminating in a disappointing cardboard box—and put off many potential backers for their Red Ash project through the mishandling of Mighty No. 9. The failure of Red Ash on Kickstarter, among other Kickstarter failures, is definitely a sign that potential investors are growing increasingly wary of who they give their money to.
But Yu has an interesting stance on the situation of Kickstarter in 2018. “I think the thing that a lot of people don’t understand with what’s changed about Kickstarter is that it used to be able to present something as a very high concept, insane idea," says Yu. "Everyone would then jump on board and be like 'I love this idea, let’s get in,' but by the end once you refine that idea down to what it actually is, you have a lot of animosity because you pitched something so vague that people came for all kinds of things.”
Yu believes that Foam Sword had success with Knights and Bikes on Kickstarter because they pitched something “extremely narrow.” Although Foam Sword didn’t lay out the mechanics, levels, and other intricacies for Knights and Bikes when it launched on Kickstarter, they did pitch it as Goonies-inspired tale of childhood adventure with distinctive visuals to match.
“People knew exactly what they were getting,” Yu says of the Kickstarter pitch for Knights and Bikes. Logic would say that a pitch with more secure and grounded ideas is more likely to be funded than a pipe dream, and Yu would agree. “I think Kickstarter’s much more a platform for mature ideas that are fully developed, rather than a bunch of high concepts and pitches.”
There is no release date as of right now for Knights and Bikes, but it’s certainly a promising indie gem that we’ll be keeping an eye on.