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  1. Childhood adventure certainly isn't a new theme for game design, but it's not often you see it done so stylishly and sincerely. Knights and Bikes from developer Foam Sword and publisher Double Fine is a co-op adventure starring two young girls searching for treasure buried underneath an unassuming British island. The quest pits them against ancient curses and the disinterest of local residents, but charming co-op game design, stunning artwork, and a heartfelt story await brave adventurers on the Switch. Also there's a goose. Knights and Bikes opens by throwing you right into the action as our two protagonists, Demelza and Nessa, are careening down a hill on their bikes. The game then jumps back to a few days prior to show Nessa arriving on Penfurzy Island, where Demelza lives with her father. The two girls quickly strike up a friendship and join forces to uncover the mythical treasure of Penfurzy, said to be left there by medieval knights. The developers have cited The Goonies as a major inspiration for the game and it's not hard to see: Knights and Bikes has the same sense of childhood adventure, bound together by the sweet and heartfelt bond between the girls. Because while the adventure is cute and goofy in the way a child's idea of a treasure hunt is, the real heart of the game comes from the girls' friendship and their tumultuous adolescent emotions, which is everything you'd expect it to be: sweet, melancholy, and touching enough to stick with you long after finishing the game. What stands out immediately about Knights and Bikes is its striking, chaotic art style. It's 2D artwork in a 3D environment in the style of children's artwork—i.e. pastels, paints, and chalk—filled with bizarre shapes and angles that bursts with personality and imagination, sometimes literally when the characters' ideas are manifested in the world as scratchy child drawings. It creates beautiful screenshots of this charmingly odd little island, but the real icing on the cake is seeing the game in action. The animation of the girls is in constant motion—a perfect representation of the boundless energy of childhood as the pair eagerly sets off on their treasure hunting adventure. It's fantastic to see the art style and animation reinforce the personalities of the characters and their child's-eye view of the world so perfectly. The music also deserves major credit for developing this atmosphere of childhood adventure, and more specifically an 80s childhood adventure. In addition to an excellent opening song that encapsulates the young 80s punk spirit, the sound design throughout the game is subtle but impactful where it counts. Although there are plenty of local co-op games (arguably not enough, but that's a different discussion), many of them end up integrating the second player in a simple, supporting role, like an assistant to the main player. Knights and Bikes, however, is fully made for co-op adventuring. Each player can control one of the girls and there's a heavy emphasis on cooperation throughout the game. Demelza and Nessa have slightly different abilities—in the form of weapons/items—so to solve puzzles or overcome obstacles the two have to work together. For example, Demelza has boots that allow her to stomp on the ground, while Nessa has a flying disc to hit distant objects, and both might be needed to unlock a gate. It's a lot of fun to see this kind of co-op experience be so central to the game and reinforce the theme of friendship. Don't worry though if you don't have someone to play with: Knights and Bikes is also completely playable solo as the AI simply takes over for the other character. You're even able to swap between the two girls to explore everything the game has to offer. The AI is also pretty good at proactively approaching obstacles or enemies so thankfully it never feels like dead weight. The game is really meant to be played with two players though, so if possible it's worth setting up a game day with a friend and sharing the adventure with someone. The adventure itself also errs on the easy side. Puzzles are never too complex, and combat is basic but fairly undemanding. That's not necessarily a negative though. Knights and Bikes is more about the sense of childhood adventure and camaraderie than challenging the player with complicated traps and hazards. The puzzle design may be somewhat simple but the adventure itself is undeniably charming. And I have to point out that the girls heal themselves by high-fiving each other—it's distressingly rare for games to recognize the healing power of high fives, so I commend Knights and Bikes for making it an integral part of the game. After all, how many games have a dedicated high five button? Knights and Bikes lasts a comfortable eight hours or so—not too long, but not too short either. It's long enough for the game's themes to have a satisfying weight to them and for a good variety of puzzles that don't grow stale. There's not a ton of replay value, but each region of the game has a number of hidden treasure boxes for you to find. Boxes hold valuable trinkets such as half-broken figurines, bugs, or bread bag ties—the kinds of things kids would treasure—which can be used to buy cosmetics for your bikes. Treasure is also abundantly found everywhere in the game, including dropped from enemies, so hunting treasure boxes is really more of a pursuit for completionists. I will note that the game suffered from some minor technical problems while I was playing. At one point the frame rate stuttered and dropped noticeably, and in another instance the visuals on the screen became stuck no matter how I moved the characters. Thankfully Knights and Bikes uses an autosave system that refreshes pretty frequently, so these problems were easily fixed by reloading the last checkpoint and losing, at most, a minute of time. Knights and Bikes is a lovingly crafted ode to childhood adventure, and perhaps a good reminder that such adventures aren't just for kids. Wandering around quirky locations and imagining them as grand fantasy structures alongside your best friend makes for an utterly charming co-op game, one that beautifully blends its story, gameplay, and audio/visual design into a clever, imaginative, and heartfelt experience. The chance to play a solid co-op game should be reason enough to pick up Knights and Bikes, but the fact that it's so well crafted will keep you hooked and pedaling. Rating: 8 out of 10 Bikes Review copy provided by publisher Knights and Bikes is available now on the Switch eShop for $19.99.
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