From Korea’s one-man operation Buff Studios comes Buff Knight, a nostalgia-drenched 2D runner that separates itself from the herd with the prominent inclusion of RPG elements. Unfortunately, the game suffers slightly from a weak narrative structure and impermanent character upgrades, making it more helpful to think of this as an unusually progressive runner, rather than a direct hybrid between runner and role playing game. However, with its appealing graphics and fast-paced play, Buff Knight makes that indulgence worth your while.
You play a plucky young knight whose kingdom is overtaken by monsters when its princess is abducted by a dragon. Leaping into action with a wooden shield and dagger, you battle a series of increasingly nasty monsters on your hunt for a dragon in need of slaying. Your path is peppered with urns, barrels and treasure chests that produce gold, gems, and potions to help you on your way. You’ll start out weak and die frequently – after all, your only options are to spend precious mana points to attack enemies with a lightning bolt, or run blade-first into them and hurt yourself in the process. However, after each death, you’re given the option to visit Buff Knight’s shop where you can (as the title suggests) get buff by buying better equipment and upgrades to your offensive and defensive faculties. You then restart your mission with these fortifications, enabling you to get further and further through the kingdom’s ruins until you reach the dragon. Be warned though, you’re in for a string of false endings, after which you’ll have to start all over again sans upgrades.
Buff Knight is every bit as simple and linear as that description lets on, but developer Kim Do Hyung has done a good job of keeping it engaging. Randomized 8-bit backgrounds are punctuated with deftly realized rainfall and glistening fountains. The music is pleasantly hypnotic, the clear, cartoony pixels are easy on the eyes, and the screen constantly crackles with activity. Enemies and items explode with coins and colorful potions; your mana attack erupts in devastating bolt of lightning that sometimes catapults monster into the air. The sheer variety of creatures is commendable; it would have been fun to include a manual detailing all the different foes you face, from vampires and mummies to floating eyeballs and jiggling cubes of gelatin. Although battle is essentially automatic, since you’re endlessly running toward your enemy, you will be frantically tapping the lower right-hand button for mana attack, tapping open treasure chests, and tapping your lower left–hand potion inventory icons to replenish your health and mana, to say nothing of accosting the fairy. At random intervals a gold spewing fairy flies across screen; furiously tapping the fey creature cause the fairy to drop piles of the color.
Unfortunately, even though this is an RPG with a proper quest, it is difficult to mark your progress or guess where things are going. One objective is to reclaim stolen artifacts, which you can equip to further augment your abilities, but it is unclear if and how these are earned when they suddenly descend from the top of the screen in a blaze of light. It is also impossible to know how far you’ve progressed in a playthrough, when you can expect the dragon to appear, or how far you might be from the game’s finale. Sometimes the game offers esoteric tips like, Every 11th treasure chest holds something special, suggesting that there is a method to this madness, though discerning the reason for such methods is difficult to say the least. This induces a sense of aimlessness that is more or less appropriate for a runner, but frustrating in the context of an RPG.
It is certainly worth mentioning that there is both a story mode and an endless mode. Endless mode offers stronger monsters and more expensive and powerful upgrades, and when you die, you start again with a blank slate. However, you begin the game with all the maxed out upgrades from story mode, and you get substantially more gold and gems. With this adjustment for inflation, the degree of difficulty is about the same in each mode. It’s nice to have a slight change of pace, although this superfluousness affects other parts of the game as well. For instance, each piece of equipment you buy can be enchanted to increase your abilities further, but you’ll lose those hikes when you equip a stronger item, so you’re better off just saving up for the best shield or sword you can get, and enchanting only those keepers.
These upgrade losses and redundancies, and the game’s murky narrative and achievement timeline, are all that prevent Buff Knight from leveling up from goodness to greatness. To be fair, striking that perfect balance between welcoming simplicity and more stimulating dimensionality is a daunting task. Players would do well to focus on the good over the not so good here, for Buff Knight’s successes bode well for the future of Buff Studios.
Is it Hardcore?
Buff Knight suffers from some redundant features and a foggy sense of progress, but its attractive appearance and punchy gameplay will keep you coming back for more.