Every so often, people just feel the need to hit something. Of course, that's not entirely possible in today's society unless we want to make statements like, 'no, officer. I wasn't really trying to hurt him. I just wanted to hit something.' Thankfully, video game designers were quick to latch onto that notion, which may be the reason we got so many great beat-em-ups in the 90s. While Knights of the Round doesn't reach the same level of greatness that other Capcom classics, such as Final Fight, have achieved, it is a good game in its own right. Designed by Boyoyon and released in 1994, this SNES game dared to ask the question 'Does King Arthur hate barrels?' Yes, yes he does.
The story of Knights of the Round is, as you can probably guess, based on the Arthurian Legend. Arthur is a man training to be a knight. However, all of that changes when he pulls the sword Excalibur from the stone. In a flash, Merlin appears before the young man and informs him that he must locate the Holy Grail to drive the chaos from Brittan. On his quest, Arthur will be joined by the talented swordsman, Lancelot, who is searching for a liege, and the pure-hearted Percival who I guess just came along because he wanted to hit stuff too. The story doesn't perfectly match up with the legend, but it comes close enough that it would at least seem correct to someone not well versed in the lore.
The graphics in the game are fairly impressive. The world is colorful and vibrant and the sprite work is detailed. The enemies are especially well designed, and there are enough of them that even the recolors maintain a sense of newness to them, except the soldier, as I could never remember if the green or the red one was the first to appear (it's the green one by the way). That said, the attacking animation can look a little choppy, but it's never bad enough to distract the player from what's going on in the battle. I should point out that Arthur's initial attack looks a little odd. Mostly because it's a half swing if it doesn't connect, so seeing it break barrels without going through the full swinging motion seems a tad off.
The gameplay is what you'd expect. The player and, if they are lucky, a buddy choose one of three characters. Lancelot is for those who favor the swift, while Percival excels in breaking enemies with his brute force and mighty axe. Arthur plays the typical balanced leader role. All of the characters can be used successfully, and there isn't really a character that is just hugely better than the others. However, there are differences. The length of the standard attack combo varies slightly from character to character, as does how the jumping attack works. During a jump, Lancelot will flurry his sword the moment the button is pressed, while Percival will not deliver the crushing blow until his feet touch the ground again. Percival also seems to have a move that none of the other characters have, which is a dashing attack. By double tapping forward, Percival will begin to sprint. Attacking at this time will unleash a slow but heavy blow.
Like other games in the genre, each character possesses a special attack that sacrifices some health. These attacks aren't necessarily more powerful than the standard attack, but they have the ability to hit any enemy near the player and knock them down. It's a very useful skill when you're getting attacked from all sides, and while that situation doesn't happen all that often, you'll be glad you have that move when you need it. The most interesting skill that the game offers the player is a block. When the block button is pressed, your character will hold his weapon out in front of him for about two seconds. If during that time, he is struck by an attack, he will take no damage and be granted a small period of invincibility. This is very, very useful against the bosses.
Speaking of which, the bosses in the game are as difficult as they are large. You are given nine continues at the start of each game for a reason, and there have been times, especially early on, where I would need three or more to take one down. That is especially sad when you realize that you respawn in the exact spot you died at with enemies retaining all the damage dealt to them. However, it's not that surprising when you realize that even standard enemies can kill you in just a few hits. The bosses with their increased power, huge reach, and life bar that takes a normal amount of damage, are much stronger than your characters. Blocking and gaining that momentary invincibility is imperative if you want to survive to do more than a few small ticks of damage to the boss.
As I mentioned before, the player character takes a lot of damage from attacks. It's not rare to die from one hit when there is still a third of the life bar remaining. Thankfully, this is alleviated slightly by the level-up system. As you gain points from defeating enemies, picking up treasures, or eating food while at full health, the characters grow stronger. With each level, the player gains a point in strength, defense, speed, and also changes in appearance, gaining new weapons or heavier armor to visually inform the player that their character is stronger. The problem is that these level ups mostly occur at the end of a stage, and each new one brings stronger enemies, so it never really feels like the characters have gotten stronger. It is a nice touch though that serves to reward the player every so often for their work.
The music in the game is good. The standard between level music captures that feeling of knightly valor without sounding completely over the top. While the level tunes, on the other hand, are more upbeat and generally very pleasant to listen to. On the downside, the sound effects are very muted. It's not hard to hear them, but they are so soft that the combat in the game lacks that oomph that a good heavy striking sound adds to the combat.
One the whole, Knights of the Round is a good beat-em-up. There are advanced strategies for playing the game, such as hitting large items to break them into smaller ones for more points, and advanced moves that players won't notice the first time, but the game does have problems. It's really easy to die, hard to block at times, and the enemies' reach sometimes seems to go beyond the animation. But, if those don't bother you, and you feel like a challenge, there are much worse beat-em-ups out there.