This past Friday (May 12, 2017), King Arthur: Legend of the Sword limped its way into theatres to mixed (but mostly poor) reviews. It grossed under 15 million in its opening weekend. Mind you, it was produced on a budget of 175 million, not counting advertising. It is a box office bomb in the ultimate sense. Damn, as if everybody didn’t see that coming. King Arthur has definitely seen better days, and I’d be damned if Knights of the Round doesn’t qualify as such. A conversion of the Capcom arcade beat ‘em up, it arrived pretty late into the SNES’ lifespan (November 1991 to April 1994) but hey, better late than never. As far as beat ‘em ups on the Super Nintendo go, this is easily one of the better ones.
A GOLDEN TIME
In January 2006 I was struck hard by an overwhelming desire to revisit my childhood in the form of one, the Super Nintendo. There were so many great games from my youth I wanted to play again and even more that I always wanted to play back in the ’90s but never did. Early 2006 was a special time. Most SNES games sold for a measly $5. There was a paucity of nostalgic collectors back then; the market had yet to explode. It was a classic case of right place, right time. I acquired most of my SNES games on the internet, but I also bought more than my fair share in real life. And there’s something special about that. It’s kind of like playing a video game with your buddies in the same room rather than online play. There’s a purity to the real life exchange that simply can’t be beat. I’ve had some great deals and met some interesting cats in those early days of 2006. One of my favorite memories was the day I ran into an old college acquaintance while out hunting.
March 25, 2006. 12:27 PM. Two months into my SNES resurrection, I left my house that Saturday afternoon full of hope and optimism. Burnt out on Saturn gaming, it was during a long University winter break that the urge to play my childhood favorites, and discover the gems that I missed back in the day, hit me like a ton of bricks. But I digress. Back to March 25. The night before I made my local rounds on Craigslist and found an ad of some guy liquidating all his old 16-bit games. I emailed him and he promptly replied, asking me to come visit his store (a good 45 minute drive both ways) on Saturday to browse his selection. He promised to give me a good deal.
And so the next morning I was off on yet another trek. I fondly recall those early hunting days. There was sort of a magic to it all… like the possibility that anything could happen and any game on my want list was laying out in the open. Having a want list of literally hundreds meant a good chance I was always going to find something. It was a peaceful spring Saturday morning. Listening to my blaring music, windows rolled down, driving all over town to reclaim bits and pieces of my childhood… there was something very ‘romantic’ about those early days.
Upon my arrival I met Aaron, the guy whom I had been in contact with. He looked oddly familiar… I couldn’t escape the feeling that I’d seen this fool somewhere before. As I browsed his SNES offerings it suddenly hit me. I had a college class with him back in the spring of 2002! In fact, we were groupmates for the final! How’s that for a weird little story? It had to be destiny.
He was looking at me sort of funny too. It had been four years since we seen each other. As we looked at each other my memory started flowing back to me. For our Final we had to share with the class something we were passionate about (it was a rec class). I talked about my love for playing basketball. At that time my love with the game was at its peak (thanks largely to Coach Butler and 9/11). Meanwhile, Aaron shared with the class his passion for video games, which included Nintendo, Sega and even the Atari Jaguar.
As I stood there recalling to myself exactly who this guy was, as if on cue, he came over to break my train of introspective thought.
“Finding everything good?”
I answered his question with a question of my own. “Hey man, didn’t we take a rec class together in college like four years back?”
“Man, I knew you looked familiar! … Steve, right? Yeah I totally remember that class… easiest A+ of my life! How the hell ya been?”
We chewed the fat for a while. So random and crazy! Turns out Aaron’s dream has always been to own his very own game store. And at just 22 years young, he was the manager of this little gaming store. I was happy for him. We were never best buddies in college but we were cool, and just seeing him randomly on this day and finding out that he achieved his dream at just 22 years old, that was sweet. It’s always nice to run into an old face and find them doing well in the game of life.
I eventually brought these four games to the counter. I was so excited to dig up Knights of the Round; it was my first time in two months spotting a copy in the wild. Such good childhood memories spent playing it and Super Baseball 2020 (which I also bought). Never got to play the SNES port of Power Instinct but I always wanted to. Aaron gave me a good deal. Knights of the Round was price at $8 but he sold it for $6. Power Instinct was $8 but he took $4. Super Baseball 2020 went for just a measly $1 (!) and Super Soccer Champ ran $2. What a wild trip, all courtesy of my checking Craigslist the night before. Little did I know I would run into an old face from my early college days, see that he was doing well and that life had been good to him, and get a nice little deal in the process. Driving home that Saturday afternoon, I rolled down the windows and blasted the music. There was such a feeling of excitement in the air. It was a fascinating time where I was getting ready to wrap up college and look to the future yet at the same time I was also looking to the past. I looked at the four games sitting on my passenger seat, smiling as old fond memories of playing them began surfacing. It was the perfect drive home. Those early hunting days… man, I’ll never forget those exuberant days. The feeling of excitement in the air… reclaiming my childhood… running into old faces… crossing want after want off the list. Good times indeed.
THE STORY GOES…
They say everything you ever needed to learn, you learned in Kindergarten. If true then these knights pass with flying colors. One of the unique things about Knights of the Round is the ability to split up treasure into multiples. That way, when playing with a buddy, both players can reap the benefits. Nice!
And not only can you split up the treasure but the food as well. I can’t think of another beat ‘em up that does this off the top of my head. It makes Knights of the Round unique as it really highlights the true co-op nature of this game.
WELCOME TO THE NEXT LEVEL
Another cool feature is the leveling up system. Your character will level up after reaching a set amount of points. This results in increased strength and tiny cosmetic changes. It adds a slight RPG flavor. It also serves as a way to refuel your health bar even mid-way through a stage, which can turn the tide in your favor. My brother Kevin and I raved about this scoring system back in ’94 and I still appreciate it to this day. There’s nothing better than having a sliver of health only to level up. In the process your character receives a new piece of armor and your health bar resets to 100%. It’s these little moments that make this game such a joy to play. Love these gimmicks!
WHEN IN DARKEST KNIGHT
Perhaps the best item of all, this allows you to automatically level up whether you’re one point away or 30,000. Hopefully you’ll run across it soon after leveling up on your own, since that really maximizes the odds of winning.
Along the way you’ll find some key items, such as this red orb. This will destroy all enemies on screen. On the downside, this does eliminate the chance of scoring more points. It’s a small sacrifice…
This was so cool but sadly it’s a one time deal. The mare puts you in prime position to smash and bash their skulls in. Playing with a friend? You and your buddy will have to decide who gets to ride the beast. Yeah, my brother and I used to always to discuss this, ahem, “peacefully.” And by that I mean if I didn’t let him mount the mare he would smack me upside my head with a pillow. Nothing like brotherly love, is there? No worries bro, I’ll get you back with my best man speech (edit: I sure did…)
OK, so you can ride a horse *twice* in the game, but only one time outside of the Braford boss fight. It’s still a shame to have it happen only two times in the entire game. Since you can’t pick up weapons, grab enemies, throw them or steal their weapons, things can get a bit repetitive. The horses manage to break up the action nicely, and thus it’s a shame they only crop up twice.
THE JOURNEY BEGINS
MEET THE MEDIEVAL GEAR GANG
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Knights of the Round had a pretty respectable reputation for the most part. EGM gave it scores of 9, 8, 7, 7 and 7. GameFan never reviewed it but spoke favorably of it in its preview. Super Play Magazine, who were notoriously hard graders, particularly of beat ‘em ups, rated it a paltry 51%. They didn’t like the genre a whole lot, so I pretty much disagree with the majority of their beat ‘em up scores. They were excessively hard on these games and found many to be too derivative. Fans of beat ‘em ups may view otherwise, yours truly included. Super Play aside, this is regarded as a solid conversion of the 1991 arcade brawler. This medieval mash ‘em up is yet another solid Capcom SNES effort.
The arcade featured a 3-player mode that didn’t make the SNES cut. No surprise there, as there is no 3-player simultaneous beat ‘em up on the SNES. It’s a damn shame, but something you accepted as a kid back in the ’90s. Some sound effects are missing as well, such as the stomping of Hammer Balbars. But all in all, Capcom captured the spirit of the arcade well and it’s a blast with two gladiators at the helm. Knights of the Round is the closest thing to Golden Axe on the SNES! Capcom delivers yet again, to no one’s surprise.
Knights of the Round is a solid beat ‘em up and one that SNES fans of two player games should have in their collection. It covers a lot of familiar ground that gives it an instant comfortability. This includes having three varying characters to select from, special desperation moves and a typical hierarchy of enemies including several nasty bosses. In addition, it also has some clever tricks up its sleeve that helps differentiate it from the crowd. Being able to split up the food and money is a neat gimmick — I’ve never seen that before in a beat ‘em up. Also, being able to block and gain a split second of invulnerability adds to the strategy of the game, elevating it from the rest of the pack. Last but not least, the ability to level up is brilliant and makes racking up points all the more crucial.
But of course, the game isn’t without some flaws. The graphics and music are both good, but the sound is a bit muted and doesn’t have the kind of convincing slicing and slashing one would expect coming from Capcom. There’s also a tiny bit of slowdown (though mainly when battling Iron Golem) to work through. And because the Arthurian bunch come armed with their weapons, there are none to pick up along the way. Picking up various weapons along the way is one of the genre’s classic simple joys — being able to pick up a Louisville slugger or a lead pipe is typically all part of the fun. Another staple of the genre missing from this game is the ability to grab, pound and throw. Therefore, Knights of the Round is more like a slash ‘em up. It offers less choices than your average beat ‘em up since there are no weapons to pick up and no way to throw your enemies. This can lead to the game growing a bit dull from time to time, but overall, it’s still a blast playing with a friend. Despite its imperfections, Knights of the Round is a solid beat ‘em up that features some unique ideas and deserves a spot in any Super Nintendo library.