Growing up, I have always loved the comical styling of Monty Python. Its satirical nature and absurd sketches always made me chuckle, though at a young age, I didn’t fully understand all the complexities. I was fond of the comic style sketches that punctuated all their work, and my latest review title reminded me of this.
Balancelot by developers, Jestercraft and AnvilBird Interactive has been available on Steam for nearly 2 years. It has finally received its console port, mainly thanks to the publishers’ Ratalaika Games. So what have we learned in the 2 years that it has been out? The Steam Community loves it. Scoring an 8 out of 10 from its user base, I was keen to give this one a go, mainly to see what all the fuss was about.
Why all the hype?
A satirical medieval themed game that explores the concept of demons taking over a calm and prosperous land. I know, not the most original start, but bear with me. You are a knight in the making in the quaint and mysterious kingdom of Fopdoodle. Everything was going well until demonic creatures arrived and ruined the peace. Lion-headed demons float around like they own the place, and evil monsters, namely snails, run riot, causing mayhem. Knights are called upon, and new challengers to this role must take part in a jousting tournament to make the grade.
As a poor man, you cannot afford a horse, nor are you considered worthy of the honour of the knight’s role, but this will not stop you. You grab the nearest thing available (a unicycle), equip your deadly lance, and begin your adventure.
This has all been done before, or has it?
You are thinking, “This has all been done before. Seen that, done that, got the tee shirt.” Yes, if it was simply a side-scrolling, beat ‘em up title I would agree, but this has an almighty frustrating twist. Think Trials HD, Decenders, or Lonely Mountain. They are all challenging games that require patience, skill, and the ability to stay calm under pressure. If you combine this with a fun and absurd medieval cartoon world, then you come up with Balancelot.
You must balance your way through 50 difficult stages, each with a gradually increasing difficulty rating. You are tasked with leaping gaps, pushing logs, attacking your enemies, and collecting stars. This must all be done without dying, and while being timed from start to finish. Checkpoints are located across each level, and it is vital that you get to each one as death is a certainty. Perform gravity defying leaps, go from horizontal to vertical to pass through the gaps, and create new paths. It’s easy on paper, but in reality its soul destroyingly difficult.
Playing this is a full-body workout.
I remember when I first played games, I would twist and move with each turn of the plane or car on my screen. I knew full well that it wouldn’t help, but yet my body was compelled to perform those tasks. As I’ve grown as a gamer, this habit has died out (thank goodness), that was until I played this title! Ring Fit Adventure for the Switch has nothing on this one. It caused me to throw myself around desperately trying to balance my would-be-knight. I’m not suggesting that this will happen to you, but it’s a probable outcome, so be prepared.
The concept is basic, and absolutely fantastic. The action is broken up with cutscenes that are bizarre and hilarious. As you complete each course like some sort of unicycling Parkour ninja, you feel you should be awarded a medal for your efforts. Like death and taxes, failure is guaranteed! No matter how good you are, you will crash into boxes, or fall down the gaping chasms. This is all par for the course, so take it in your stride and learn from your errors.
Hand-drawn art and whimsical audio.
The 2D imagery is fantastic. Striking hand-drawn character models and delightful unique backgrounds make up much of this game. It’s simple, easy to look at, and reminiscent of Monty Python. The flow of the movement is smooth, and your unicycle slices through the stage like a hot knife through butter. The animation of the wheels moving is old-school and a joy to watch. As you collide with objects and fall to your death, it makes you wince in pain. The protagonist’s cardboard body cracks and bends as it impacts any surface, it’s truly horrific to observe. The vivid colours and bright tone match the notion that this was a prosperous kingdom. The dark, sinister appearance of your demon foes represents a classic good verses evil vibe.
The audio is a loud, annoying fanfare that is amazing. A repetitive tune plays throughout, but doesn’t get annoying. Its light-hearted tone makes you happy and goes a long way in stopping you from wanting to smash your controller into a million pieces. The constant squeaking of your one wheel, and the crunching sound of your bones will make you chuckle repeatedly.
It all sounds like a logistical nightmare!
For such a finely tuned game, the control setup is remarkably straightforward. Few buttons are required to keep you upright and moving, it’s a delight to control, and alleviated my fears when I first started. It’s surprisingly forgiving, allowing me to focus on having fun and overcoming the obstacles in my way.
Ratalaika Games are renowned for releasing achievement friendly titles, and this is no exception. It takes less than 30 minutes to get 1000 Gamerscore, but this isn’t the end of the tale. It will take hours to get through the 50+ levels that are available, so patience and practise are a must for would be completionists. With the timer to record your results, and stars to collect en route, there is plenty to make you want to return.
Was the hype worth it?
The Steam Community is usually not far off the mark with their scoring, but for me 8 out of 10 is too strong. It is a fantastic game, with plenty of challenge, lots or replay value, and it made me laugh. But without it developing its concept from the basic premise, it stays in a comfortable, yet predictable place throughout. If there was more variety, then I’d consider a higher score, but as it is, 6.5 out of 10 is fair. Do I recommend it? Yes! It’s inexpensive and can be purchased here for £6.39 for a limited time. Can you overcome the demons that terrorise your kingdom? Will you be able to balance on a unicycle? Will your controller survive hours of this game? These are questions that only you can answer while playing this title.