REVIEW: Lightning Knights by Tikipod / exA-Arcadia

Lightning Knights

Lightning Knights cover

Developer: Tikipod

Publisher: exA-Arcadia

Release: June 2020

Type: Top-Down Dungeon Crawler

Players: 1-4, simultaneous

Hardware: EXA Board

ARCADE EXCLUSIVE?: Yes

Rating: N/A, but probably would be Yellow Label for Animated Violence

Synopsis: Crawl the dungeons and fight off the hordes in this unique game that is like Smash TV meets Gauntlet

Review:

When I first heard about this release coming to the exA-Arcadia system, I only had a passing familiarity with the console version, known as Iron Crypticle. I decided to rectify that by grabbing it for the Nintendo Switch, where I was able to get a pretty good idea of what to expect, which was enough to sell me on the arcade version of the game. Here’s a comparison I did of the two after I received the cart:

If you haven’t played either version, then the best comparison that I can come up with, as mentioned in the synopsis, is that it’s old school Gauntlet meets Smash TV. You and up to four friends are transported into a dungeon as you chase down the baddies who stole the royal treasures. It’s a single screen setting, so no scrolling dungeons to manage – this is especially where it’s similar to Smash TV. You must eliminate all of the monsters that appear in the room by shooting your weapon at them (this is where it’s like Gauntlet), which then opens the gates to continue your quest until you reach the level boss. Eliminate that creature, pick your new route, going until you face off against the Final Boss to see if you can get the treasures back.

There are four characters to choose from, with the arcade version adding two new female characters and giving all four of them names (Arthur, Poppy, Violet & Forrest). Each player has their own leaderboard, but note that scores reset to zero inside of gameplay if you die then continue. While this was the first 4-player game released for the exA, it does work fine as a 1 or 2-player title.

Perhaps the most noticable difference between the home and arcade versions are the controls. Since this was designed for a multi-game platform, that had to make do with the single joystick instead of it being a twin-stick shooter. The console version does have a single stick mode, so if you have that, then you can get an idea of what the game is like in arcades. The control scheme, while similar in nature to Gauntlet or Berzerk and is fairly simple, still takes some getting used to as your brain will often expect twin-stick shooting instead of having to point yourself in the direction you want to fire, then firing. There is a nice lock aim feature though – if you hold the fire button down, then your character will stay shooting in that direction. The key as I have found is to know when you need to let go, switch directions, then hold again. Do this fast enough and you’ll crawl the dungeons just fine.

As you can see from this, it’s a 3 button game; Dash also serves as an attack, but you’ll want to remember to use it frequently as it helps you get around faster. That said, it needs to recharge, so be mindful of that; You can’t just spam it. Atomic Fist is labelled “bomb” for a good reason, although they did reduce the blast range from the console version while making it a little easier to get a new Atomic Fist recharge.

One of the most appealing things about the game for me is the procedural generation. While that’s nothing new in gaming itself, it’s still welcome, as every time you play, the placement of the items & monsters is different; Even the directions you can take on the map can change, keeping this fresh. The game also has a sense of humor about it, although some of that is easier to find in the console version when it comes to the item descriptions that you can read.

There are a lot of collectibles in this game, from a huge variety of food/snacks to coins, power-ups, weapons and treasures. The power-ups are obvious ones you want to grab, as this can give you a nice, but brief advantage over your standard weapon. That said, there’s more to picking up the food than meets the eye, especially if you skip the tutorial. You’ll notice a couple of things when playing – 1st, when you select a character, they have stats with some of the squares filled out in different ways. Then, when grabbing food you’ll notice it says “100x#,” the final number changing depending on how many food items you grab in succession. You want to grab at least 8+ in a row whenever you can – not just because this helps your score, but it also unlocks stat upgrades. This is one area where the game differs from the original Gauntlet or Smash TV, as you can enhance your character’s damage, rate of fire, speed, and power-up weapon duration. The upgrades appear as collectibles, so you do have to walk over them when they appear, but you’ll want to do this to handle later levels better. That said, while the tutorial on both this and the console version says “8,” in practice it seems to be sort of random, and more like 16. That’s a little annoying as it can be a bit of a pain to get that much food all in succession. The counter also resets if you get hit or take too long.

Other pick-ups you want to grab include BONUS tiles and colored gems. Both are useful as when any player collects the full set, it kills every enemy on the screen. Since it takes time to do this over many screens, it tends to come in handy as later levels can get packed with enemies. On the arcade version, it seems much easier to collect the bonus tiles instead of gems, but both have the same effect.

The console version also has an element that’s been changed for the arcade version – scrolls. In the console, these are picked up and can be held for later use, but in this one, when you grab a scroll, it instantly launches the effect. Unfortunately, they do seem to pop-up with much less frequency than in the console game; It’d be nice if that rate of generation were increased, at least in later levels.

You might be wondering, “Why did they change the name?” It’s a good question and it hits at why I say it’s “Arcade Exclusive” up above. The arcade version features a number of changes that make it different enough to warrant the new moniker, some of which I’ve mentioned already – new character designs & names, different controls, a lot of rebalancing on when things appear, and the addition of a narrator, which gives it more personality (and also allows us to make another Gauntlet comparison). One of the bosses, Madame Tentacles, is present in the home game, but only as a secret unlockable, while you can face off against it in this version simply by choosing that path. There are some removals – the game is streamlined to work better in an arcade environment, so some of the superfluous story stuff (there isn’t a lot in the console version), as well as the bonus side-scrolling stage (Castle Crushers), have been removed. Also in one of those “under-the-hood” differences that some may not notice, this has lower input lag than any home version, meaning lighting fast response times on the controls.

GRAPHICS

No version of the game is a graphics benchmark demo, as the game was made to look like something we would have seen back in the 90s after Smash TV. That said, the exA version runs in 4K resolution without a hitch, where there is no problem in throwing tons of sprites onto the screen, the game running at 60fps. Apart from the resolution difference, the game looks the same between platforms. I like the use of color in the game, and all the art is well-drawn & animated – nothing was lost there in the arcade port, but the arcade additions all fit like they were meant to be there. There are two screen filters that operators can set: Scanlines or CRT, the latter offering something that makes it look a little lower resolution than scanlines.

SOUND

Many exA games make their mark by doing things differently in the sound department, and while this does not have a whole new soundtrack, the narration is a welcome addition – something that the newer Minecraft could use to give it some personality. Other sounds are the same as the console versions, but it’s all enjoyable.

CONTROL

This is the place where the arcade version separates out the chaff so to speak – because there is a small learning curve here, I’ve observed that casual gamers often get frustrated or discouraged fairly quickly when they play. It’s not hard to figure out for any gamer who has even a decent skillset, but for those expecting the twin stick flow, it’ll throw you off. That all said, the controls are extremely responsive thanks to the very low input lag and at three buttons to use, it’s easy to learn. The lock aim feature is also really nice, so that once you learn it, you can become a pro on this game in no time.

It would be cool to see a dedicated cabinet version with twin sticks for each player, although I doubt that there are plans for such a thing.

HARDWARE PACKAGE

I normally call this section “Cabinet” since that is a separate category to focus on for arcades, but this is only available in kit form, so that doesn’t really fit. Instead, when you order this separate from an exA board system, it comes in a small, but long box that includes the cartridge, manual and related artwork including an A1 size poster. There are also instruction strips in both English and Japanese. Some exA carts come with different colors; Lightning Knights is black.

OPERATOR FEATURES 

Here’s a category that I should include in all reviews from here on out – no it’s not for the gamers, so you can skip to the next section. For ops though, there are quite a few options that you can adjust when you push TEST while in the game itself. These include: Coin settings/Free play; Screen orientation; Screen Scale; Screen Effect (this is the one with scanlines, CRT);¬† Language; Sound settings; Max continues (can set to no limit), and Auto Quit (this is something in all exA games where if set to on, the game will go back to the exA menu after about five minutes; Otherwise, it’ll just sit in the game’s attract mode until credited).

ENTERTAINMENT

It’s a fun game, helped by a sense of humor, one that made perfect sense to make the jump from consoles to arcades. Once you learn the controls, particularly the lock aim, then you’ll be slaying monsters left and right without a hitch. While I haven’t heard of it happening yet, this is also a game that can technically be 1cc’ed – there’s no time-to-die set, so if you can avoid getting hit, so you can go all the way, which is something we don’t see too often in arcades these days. That said, this is an extremely tough game, so the person who can manage a 1cc here would have to be a One Punch Man level legend to manage it.

This is also a game that is best played with friends. Things can get a little chaotic with 4-people on the screen, but players who work as a team can make it farther and get more out of their coins. A 4x1cc would also be quite a sight to behold…

RECOMMENDED

If you’re a hardcore/serious gamer, then absolutely yes. If you’re more of a casual, then probably not, unless you want to find something to challenge yourself with, or you’re playing the game with someone who is good at it. Along that line, operators would probably find this one best served on a 4-player cabinet, but if you’ve only got a 2p unit, there’s nothing in the game that would confuse players into thinking it’s supposed to have another player around, so it works there too. Also for operators – you really can’t argue with the price. If you have an exA already, then it’s only around $1250. When is the last time you remember paying that much for a brand new video game?

Videos/Pics:

Full playthrough

ARCADE HEROES STORIES:

Now Available To Order: Infinos EXA & Lightning Knights (Feb. 2020)

Exa-Arcadia Updates: Chaos Code, Lightning Knights, Axel City 2, Vritra Hexa (May 2020)

Lightning Knights Is Officially Available For Arcades (June 2020)

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