The hero of time
The Legend of Zelda’s Link isn’t the only hero caught in a race against the clock to rescue a helpless princess. In Wind-up Knight 2 you take on the role of an automaton — a mechanical wind-up toy made to imitate a human being — named Sir Sprint with a similar heroic goal in mind. But Sprint’s wound-up energy will be put to the test by masterfully crafted platforming levels brimming with countless villains and relentless traps as he tries to redeem himself, putting his past failures behind him. The game’s humor isn’t too bad, either.
The story starts off with a bit of tragic and pathetic news. You learn Sir Sprint was rejected by the human resources department due to failing his assigned task of “Rescue the Princess.” A portion of his rejection letter reads: “Sprint is dead to me. Send the loser back to basic training until I figure out what else to do with him.” This is where the fun begins. (I’m assuming this is where I become some princess’s potential knight in shining armor.)
What I like about Wind-up Knight 2 is that it starts off by slowly introducing you to its many gameplay mechanics and basic controls. The first three levels of the game take place in the Training Grounds area, giving you a taste of what to expect in the plethora of levels that lie ahead. Simple controls make maneuvering quite seamless: duck to roll, up to block with your shield, “A” to jump, and “B” to swing your mighty sword — standard stuff here.
At the start of each level, a Twitter-like feed called “Ravens” displays on the left half of the screen. It’s mostly full of pointless banter between characters such as a knight who goes by the user name “teh BLaCk KNiGHT” and a (the?) princess who goes by “The Princess™.” Other strange and charismatic characters also make frequent appearances, adding to the already humorous dialogue worth a glance. On a few occasions, I found myself wanting to reply to one of them; reality quickly set in, bringing me back to realize that I needed to start the level already. In-game tips often appear in the feed, too, providing helpful hints to aid you during your quest.
Successfully completing a level means you’ve made it to the unfurled flag — unscathed — waiting for you at the end. While seemingly friendly goats try smothering you with their foul flatulence and demonic red-eyed roosters attempt to swipe at you, the real challenge lies within each level’s design. Throughout each level, you collect Coins which can be used to purchase equipment in the game’s shop. Collecting all Coins for a given level earns you the rank of “A.” In addition, each level has a red Gnome Hat tucked away in a not-so-obvious nook and cranny; collecting enough hats unlocks a special, priceless item. Collecting all Coins and nabbing the Gnome Hat for a single given level rewards you with the rank of “S.” Most importantly, however, frequent wind-up items must be collected to continuously feed your Winding Power meter located in the upper left-hand corner of the screen, which maintains your forward momentum. Lose your power and you disintegrate into a cloud of twisted metal, clunky gears, and binary bits of non-existent knighthood. You’re a wind-up toy, man. Levels do offer multiple checkpoints along the way, but that’s just the beginning.
If you think you have what it takes by simply finishing each level, think again. Whenever you complete a level, three side-quests (for that specific level) automatically unlock. Each one tasks you with accomplishing various bizarre challenges. For the Bowling side-quest, you’ll have to duck and roll through bowling pins to rack up strikes — miss one frame and you lose the challenge. Another challenge has you running around with a net to capture pretty fairies — miss one fairy and you lose the challenge. There are more challenges that keep things fun and lively, too, but I’ll let you discover those for yourself.
Not once did I feel any of the levels were repetitious, boring, or poorly designed. In fact, Wind-up Knight 2 offers some of the best platforming I’ve ever experienced. The camera angle felt somewhat akin to Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze on Wii U — how it follows you around while making automatic adjustments along the way. Coupled with sharp, clear visuals, everything always felt smooth and worked perfectly fine. Flowing lava, scenic castles, underground dwellings — just a few of the many settings you’ll find yourself traversing through. Some levels are based around grass, ice, and even warp portals. Running through the tall grass mellows things out by slowing your pace while hitting the ice blasts you forward at speeds capable of making you reach up to wipe your brow or itch your lower back from streaming sweat. The music selection never felt stale or overused, either; there always seemed to be plenty of variety with appropriately themed medieval-type tunes.
Briefly going back to the game’s side-quests: You occasionally earn Tournament Tickets upon completing them, which can then be used to compete in one of the game’s Tournament modes called High Score mode. In it, you compete in different levels (they change daily) for points earned by collecting Gems. There’s an in-game leaderboard that keeps track of your score, and collecting enough Gems can unlock exclusive, snazzy gear for your pint-sized automaton. The game’s Party mode allows 2-4 players to compete for points locally (also by collecting Gems) in daily levels; after each player has lost a life, they pass the GamePad off to the next player.
In-game Achievements add a level of replayability as well. Unlock the “Pants on fire” achievement by outrunning a lava flow. Want to become a “Bowling Knight?” No problem, just complete ten Bowling side-quests. Sadly, after completing all 39 main levels of the game, I never saw a princess. If I’m not mistaken, that was my sole purpose in life up to this point. Or was it? Either way, I was presented with a cheesy “Congratulations” screen telling me that I could now unlock a Nightmare mode for each of the four regions of the world map. At this point, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I expected to rescue a princess after hours of gameplay, but that didn’t happen. Needless to say, I’m a sucker for a good challenge, so I unlocked the first Nightmare mode level and completed it, along with its included three side-quests. Fun stuff.
If someone told me Wind-up Knight 2 was previously released on Android and iOS, I would have never known. Then again, I don’t play mobile games too often, either. Mobile or not, Wind-up Knight 2 exceeded my expectations in pretty much every department. I found myself continuously striving for each level’s flagpole, able to immediately restart from checkpoints if needed. Its rich, detailed visuals and quick, addictive gameplay kept me grabbing for the Wii U GamePad; even when I placed it back in the charger, I found myself going back to it sooner than expected — or even wanted. If you’re looking for a fulfilling platform experience with plenty of balance between casual and hardcore challenge, with an abundance of replay value, Wind-up Knight 2 is bound to wind you up with excitement, frustration, and satisfaction all at the same time.
Wind-up Knight 2, developed by Robot Invader and published by Unity Games, launched in the North American Wii U eShop on August 13, 2015 for $7.50.
Review copy provided by Robot Invader