As you’ll recall, last week there was a news announcement about King Lucas coming to the Switch. Well, legend foretold that I was would get a review code, kindly provided by Devilish Games, and have therefore been playing it to indicate if you should buy it or not.
When the news of King Lucas hit my inbox, I had a brief look at the trailers and a scan at the existing reviews on Steam. The opinion was divided. Rather than regurgitate what everyone else has written, this here review is my appraisal, based on my experience playing this on the Nintendo Switch before the release date.
King Lucas is promoted as an 8-bit/16-bit platform game of old when gamers used to fight dragons and were kitted out in full-on armour. It’s true, and I have the scars. However, having now played it, it doesn’t feel so much an older game, but a standalone indie title that just so happens to have classic platform traits. It doesn’t feel like a retro game; equally, King Lucas isn’t kicking down the doors of Pioneersville just yet, but do you know what? It plays pretty well.
It all kicks off when you, a wandering knight, gets collared by the King who asks you to rescue his daughter. He informs you that he has another daughter to save, then a dog, and so on and so on. You don’t really have much say in it, so get to work exploring this seemingly endless castle.
At first, only a small portion of the castle is unlocked, so you navigate from one screen to the next to locate the princess. Pressing the L button brings up a map of the castle, primarily a fragmented game of Minesweeper as you light up areas you have already been to, with the unexplored regions shaded out.
Navigating each ‘room’ means you have to jump over armoured snails, fire pits and on to moving blocks to get to another side of the room. In each room is an exit to the top, left, bottom and right of the screen. The exception is when you are on the outskirts or close to a basement filled with spikes. It’s not as easy as speedrunning through the levels to find the princess as apart from the enemies and hazards you encounter, you have to unlock doors with consumable keys as you go along. Unfortunately, keys are limited, and I found this out the hard way.
By the time I had located my second princess (quite early on, I have to say, smugly), all my keys had been used up so I couldn’t reach her. This meant retracing my steps, killing every enemy and smashing destructible barrels in the aim that I would get a key drop. Nothing. Finally, I met a witch (the antagonist of the game), who acts as a merchant and can sell keys. Boom! Back in the game.
There is also a blacksmith that is scattered throughout the castle, and his face will show on the map, should you need to return to him. It’s a bit lazy as it’s the same blacksmith model – I would have liked to have seen a different one as he’s often only a few rooms away.
The blacksmith sells weapons and shields. As can be expected, some weapons are heavy hitters, have a higher attack speed and possibly an increase to its endurance. That’s right; much like the Zelda series, weapons only have so many hits until they break and you aren’t able to repair them. Fortunately, you have an unbreakable base weapon – a dagger. It doesn’t do much damage or have a good reach, but it’s a decent backup should you run out of weapons and money.
One of the best features of the game is death. That’s right when you die, it’s not such a bad thing. With these sorts of games, it’s expected of you to die a hell of a lot, but in King Lucas, deaths aren’t as frequent as most games, and when you die, you’ll get a game over title screen, but you can click retry and return to a checkpoint. You keep all your coins, your weapons and any enemies previously defeated remain that way. Bonzer!
There’s a reason why death isn’t on the table so often, and that’s because the game is pretty easy. Even with the dagger equipped, you can usually do enough hits to kill some of the bigger enemies without them hitting you. Additionally, though there are lots of opportunities to cock up on a jump onto a moving platform or over spikes or lava, the controls are excellent, and it’s not that often that you’ll end up with a spike up your arse.
It’s all sounding so good, so that must be setting us up for the negatives. Hell yeah. There are a couple of things that stood out for me. First of all, there appears to be a glitch with the game where your character will randomly teleport across the screen. In my first hour or so of play, this happened twice, and I thought that there was a rewind hotkey I was hitting and just so happened to ignore reading in the tutorial.
However, there is no rewind option; the knight teleports or freezes up. It didn’t break the game, but it happened enough for me to notice and then include here. The other issue is minor but irritated me a little. When you do die, the animation sequence drags, and your character lays motionless with nothing happening. It takes probably 20-30 seconds, but you just want to skip it and get back into the game. There’s no option, and sometimes it feels like the game has crashed. I’m usually very patient, but this stood out like a sore thumb.
In terms of presentation, King Lucas is good, and the visuals are much better than a lot of the tripe on the Nintendo eShop. When you start the game, you have the option to customise your character. If you’ve read a handful of my reviews, you’ll know that I love customisations and often spend a great deal with them.
In this case, you customise your avatar, not the actual playable character. It was a nice touch to personalise him, but I would have like to have been able to do the same for the playable character too rather than the postage stamp image that appears at the top of the screen.
King Lucas feels like quite a big game, considering that there are 1000+ rooms to explore and they’re only unlocked as you rescue each person (or mutt!). There aren’t any unlockables or further customisations other than the available weapons and armour, but there is a fair amount on offer that is worth experimenting with. It’s one of the few games where I preferred a ranged weapon than a big ol’ axe, though. Timing a jump and hitting attack to clip a spider is so much better than waiting for them to come to you.