Knight Lore

If my choice was finding the cure or taking the silver bullet, I'd probably take the bullet...

That's a mid transformation screenshot. You don't waddle through the game like that

For some reason, I always got the impression that Knight Lore was steeped in so much mystery that it was some kind of underrated hidden gem and that it's a surprise nobody knew about it. Turns out it was just me, as Knight Lore blew away gamers of the mid 80s with its graphics, showing off the previously unseen effect of things being in front of other things. Depth! In a game!

I poke fun but it really is something to behold. I know next to knowing about how the ZX Spectrum works, but even I can see how swanky the screens of Knight Lore are. It's the third part of Sabreman's adventures. He's been cursed to roam the world as a werewulf and wishes to find the cure to rid himself of it. To do so, he must find a whole bunch of items scattered throughout the castle, bung 'em in a magical pot in the right order, and hey presto, no more lycanthropy.



It does not play as easily as it sounds however. First of all comes the challenge of finding out which button controls what. While there are a few options for control types, they're not exactly what you're used to. You can walk and jump, that's good, but your movement is controlled by buttons to turn you left and right, rather than to walk left or right.

It's going to be a case of turn, walk, stop, turn, walk, jump. With precision. While you're changing into a werewulf. In an unfamiliar castle. With obstacles you don't even know are obstacles until you hit them and lose a life. Without a map.

The view is great. Knight Lore is an isometric puzzler where you've got to think about positioning far more than you realise. I ended up getting stuck in a room that required me to jump onto a moving block, then jump back up to the level of the door I fell through. When Sabreman turns into a werewulf, he can jump higher and further, which is not only handy but required for some sections of the castle. When he's just Sabreman though, he - meaning you - must rely on skill and timing. Which you won't have because of the god awful control layout.

I noped out of Knight Lore faster than a tool assisted speed run, but I did make sure to watch a walkthrough - at double the speed. It's a long game to put yourself through.

One of the first things I noticed, other than the competency of the player, was the various tricks they used to move about the levels, including using an item as a platform to jump from in order to reach somewhere else, all while picking up that item just as soon as you've leapt from it.

I sure hope that is a speed running strategy and not something that you need to learn during the game, otherwise you could give me a hundred days before the curse claimed me for good, and I still wouldn't know what I was doing.

You have forty days but they fly by, so you've got to make them count. How do you do that if you don't know where you're going? Don't look at me...

Fun Times

It looks good though. They've sure have taken the graphics engine and ran with it. Everything is in front of something, and of course items are hidden amongst the layers. Sometimes the challenge comes from trying to work out just where an object is in 3D space in the first place, let alone how to safely get there via platforming. Having to take different heights into account as well as distance adds to the sense of the castle being a real castle. Full of nonsense, but real nonetheless.

It has some slow down when there's too much going on at once, even when being emulated, but that can be forgiven. It's the gameplay and the controls that can't.

Final Word

There are some games, perhaps many games, where you would love to go back and play them if it weren't for that one thing - that one level that frustrates you, that one mechanic you have to fight with, that one thing that the game is missing and so on. I would concede that I hardly played Knight Lore but I'd like to explore that castle much more if it weren't for these controls.

It looks like a game from the future put handles like one from the distant past. Probably mixing up my tenses there, but I hope you get the point. Watch it by all means, even if its just to see the graphics in motion. Play it on the Internet Archive when you've time to spare. Just know what you're getting into.

Fun Facts

Though developed first, Knight Lore was released as the third game in the Sabrewulf series. The reason? It looked too damn good, and the developers didn't want to hurt the sales of their own yet-to-be-released games.

Knight Lore, developed by Ultimate Play the Game, first released in 1984.
Version played: ZX Spectrum, 1984, via emulation.
Version watched: ZX Spectrum, 1984 (RZX Archive)