Rival Knights Review: A Fun Jousting Game but Not Without Its Faults

It’s rare to see a new spin on an overused game formula. What I’m personally used to seeing is a game suddenly rising in popularity, and then everyone releasing what is pretty much a re-skinned version of it. Gameloft’s Rival Knights is the exception I’ve been looking for. It’s a jousting game that plays very similarly to drag-racing games such as CSR Racing, but adding more than enough changes to make the game feel new and fresh.

The idea is that you’re a no-name knight and you’re participating in a tournament to win a lot of cash, defeating all the rich noble stereotypes and getting the hot girl in the process. That’s all you need to know about the story. If you were hoping for something epic with choices and plot twists, you’re better off looking at some RPG.

The main mechanic is just like all drag racing games – tap the screen at the perfect moment for a speed boost at the start and then tap when the indicator on the side is as close to the green-zone as possible to accelerate faster. This seems quite familiar, but since this is a jousting game, there’s one more thing you’ll be doing – aiming the lance. After you “shift gears” a few times, you’ll enter aim-mode in which you’ll control the lance, trying to aim as close as possible to a marked weak spot (which changes in each round). If you succeed, you’ll be rewarded with what I believe are the best ragdoll physics in a mobile game I’ve played. Your opponents will be sent flying all over the place, doing back-flips, side-flips, flying over the fence etc. Personally I find that incredibly amusing to watch every time. Of course that’s not all you’ll get, if you win the round, you’ll get gold. The amount is divided between several things: round reward, perfect start bonus, high speed bonus and perfect hit bonus.

The progression system is quite similar to Gameloft’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier. You’ll be going through 5 leagues total, following an “event path”, which occasionally branches into two, leaving you an option to do both or just one to progress further. Event variety is ok for the game:

– Encounter: regular single round event. Knock down the opponent and you win.
– King of the Hill: several regular encounters in a roll (usually 3). You have to win them all before you can progress. If you fail, you start all 3 over again.
– Medal challenge: regular encounter but with a specific objective, such as “get a perfect start bonus”. Later in the game they get multiple objectives.
– “Boss fight”: regular encounter, except you need to win two rounds. Unlike King of the Hill, you’ll be doing this event until you or your opponent wins twice.

There are also online events, in which you can compete in points to win nice prizes (usually items equivalent to the gem-currency ones in stats) or put down a few gems and compete with friends to win a lot more of them.

A key thing to beating each event is the equipment you’re using. You can buy helmets, armor, horse and lance. There are three general types of each: easy to use but with lower stats, “normal” which are generally gem-currency only, and hard to use, which have the highest stats. Each item can also be upgraded several times to improve its stats.

Design-wise the game is actually really good. The graphics and detail put into them is very high quality, the sounds are superb, but most importantly – they made the game feel good. Gameloft used the clever combination of camera movements to create a sensation of speed and feel that you’re actually riding a horse. There is also a day and night cycle which is done pretty well and gives some good variety to the scenery. One thing I found a bit disappointing is the lack of customization. You can’t repaint equipment, decorate it or even name your horse (you can however create a custom banner). This I think needs to be addressed in a future content update.

Speaking of future content, while this game is obviously aiming for authenticity, a part of me is actually hoping to see Gameloft go nuts with it (much like the ad-videos for it). Imagine riding a zebra, or a pony…and why not a bear instead of a horse…or maybe add a boxing-glove-lance…or if you want to get really ridiculous – dual wielding lances against two opponents at the same time. While none of this will probably happen, it’s just something I’m hoping to one day see in a game. With that said, the only real down-side in the game’s design is the always-online requirement. I personally don’t like any mobile game that does that, but this one at least has cloud saving, so I guess it’s excusable.

Now I think it’s time to address what is actually wrong with the game. I delayed this article for a while just to make sure I’m not doing things wrong and be able to try out everything. I’d like to point out that this is what I experienced with version “1.0.0o” of the game. So let’s get started.

The first thing I noticed, which I consider pretty serious, is that the game doesn’t close properly. I don’t mean the typical “it’s running in the background”, I mean you exit it, but the RAM it was using will remain in-use until the device is restarted (task managers will NOT help). I thought this might be because of my device (which is a Galaxy S2, running on Android 4.0.3), so I asked a friend to test it on his Woxter tablet (Android 4.2.2) and he reported the same issue. I initially didn’t even notice it, but after some time playing, I noticed constant 750MB RAM in-use (out of 831MB total), and after further testing, it seems that the occupied amount stacks up instead of remaining the same. This is a bug Gameloft needs to fix ASAP.

Next is a much weirder one – inconsistent online events. The first time I participated, which was when the game was just released, went quite well, I even managed to win 2nd place and get a nice lance, along with a lot of gold. The second event however, started with a helmet with a lot of gold as prize, but a few hours in, the prize suddenly became “200 gold” for first place (note: regular encounter in single-player gives you around 150-300 gold). The third time I tried it, it often refused to refresh the stat-page, making it impossible to participate at times. The gem-event had a different issue where it showed me as “defeated” yet I progressed to the next stage (clearly an on-screen message bug).

The third problem is with the perfect-hit bonus. During my 6 days playing, I’ve lost about 20 times, 17 of which were events where a perfect hit was required. Even using the easy-to-handle lances it’s really hard to do it (good luck if you get the hard to handle ones). Originally I thought I just needed practice, but after re-watching my recordings, I noticed it’s actually a hit-detection problem. A lot of times I hit my opponent dead-on the weak spot, but it didn’t register it as a perfect hit for some reason.

The last thing I want to mention is not really a problem, but more like a concern – balance. Up to the third league, I can confirm that the game is perfectly balanced. On the third league however, I noticed that the upgrade prices jumped much higher even on the starting equipment, while the bonuses from upgrades were lowered and the number of upgrades per item increased (same thing with the 2nd league ones, but those were cheaper). I haven’t progressed enough to be able to give a solid statement on this, but the event prizes so far make me believe you’ll have to do a lot of grinding later on to stay competitive with opponents later on. My own advice – don’t spend any gems or free boosts before the middle of the third league. Also preferably don’t upgrade anything except the final armor-tier in each league (which you’ll get near the end) since that’s the one you’ll end up using in online events anyway.

To conclude on this title, while the initial release has some glaring bugs, it still remains a really enjoyable game. I personally hope to see the problems I mentioned above fixed soon and this becoming one of Gameloft’s new franchises.

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