“I beat I Wanna Be The Guy once.”

That was the mental mantra I kept repeating in the back of my head as I threw myself against the sharp rocks of Knight’s Try again and again and again. I love hard games, always have, especially platformers. Unfortunately I don’t get to talk about them here very often because the genre has basically bisected into two: chill platformers that play like the first couple levels of the older games that inspired them, and Games That Hate You. Knight’s Try is neither of those. Knight’s Try is something special.

The presentation here takes inspiration from the N64 era of 3D platformers, and I very specifically mean N64 and not just 5th gen. Big flat textures, muddled colors, none of the PS1 warping, chunky models, the works. The moment the game drops you into the huge castle courtyard to wander around and figure out your movement you’ll feel right at home.

What might stand out is the lack of music until you finally drop into the game proper and Clair de Lune starts playing on loop. KT doesn’t really have music, per se, instead allowing players to upload their own custom midi soundtrack. I cannot overemphasize how much this added to my enjoyment of the game, how helpful it was to be able to blast songs like Night of Fire or Sabotage while trying to master a stressful section and flip through tracks with a tap of the bumpers. It sounds like a silly feature, and yeah ok it is, but when you’ve died to the same hazard 10 times in a row sometimes you just need to hear BringMeToLife.mid, y’know? It matters!

Gameplay couldn’t be simpler. Your jump has exactly one height, no need to master short presses or holds. Movement is a run. You can walk with a soft press of the stick but that’s rarely beneficial. Then there’s, uh…the sit button? You can sit, just settle down on the ground and hang out. It doesn’t do anything important besides create photo ops. It’s a far cry from the typical movesets in its era of inspiration, with games like Mario 64 adding crouches, slides, wall jumps, attacks, what have you. Instead KT makes the most of its moveset by pushing it to its absolute limits. You never find yourself questioning how a difficult section could be done; the tools are few and obvious. You only need to figure out how to use them.

Over the course of your adventure your athleticism will be tested in myriad ways, some of which you could probably predict, others likely less so. Each checkpointed section feels like a distinct level even though they all run into each other. Explaining them section by section feels a bit unnecessary, though I will say my personal favorites were around the middle (roughly checkpoints 4-6) and checkpoint 3 nearly gave me an aneurysm on my first go around.

The most controversial part of KT’s design will undoubtedly be its checkpointing. Not because its placements are unfair or too far apart, but because you cannot save and resume later. KT’s default Knight difficulty demands that you beat it in one shot, albeit with infinite continues. Lest you think this game is exclusively for masochists with too much time on their hands, it offers a training difficulty called Squire that allows you to start from any checkpoint and get a feel for each section. This is an excellent way to drill areas, focusing on particularly tricky challenges so that when you get there on your next Knight attempt you’ll be ready.

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about mechanics here because they’re important context for how playing through this game felt: tense. You may have infinite continues but KT is anything but forgiving. A mistake typically means death, and every new obstacle demands observation before and during each attempt. How does this hazard behave? Does it interact with the others? Which method of avoiding this best sets me up to handle what comes after? Can you just run straight through? I’ll answer that last one for you: no, you probably cannot.

Each checkpoint is placed perfectly to offer you a wave of relief, while also positioning you directly in front of a massive problem that you know you’re going to have to solve. A giant pit, floating platforms over the void, a massive spire, you get the gist. It’s joys are always served alongside dread, pleasure mixed with pain, and that first playthrough never misses on delivering that mixture at every opportunity. And it was that motivation to earn that final hit of good brain chemicals that pushed me through to the finale. It felt like I had really achieved something, the kind of satisfaction few games deliver. It was also helped by me playing a midi of Cruel Angel’s Thesis over the conclusion. I told you the custom soundtrack mattered!

Of course that meant I had to go back for more. I decided I wasn’t allowed to write this review until I beat the game on Arch-Knight, a difficulty option that only grants you 3 lives per checkpoint. And as if to encourage me in this pursuit Modus Interactive happened to patch the brutal two-checkpoint stretch at the end to require sliiiightly looser timing after I had already beaten it on Knight. When I saw this update come through I was briefly confused as to why, but then I remembered that section had claimed almost half of my total Tries during my first successful playthrough so I opted to take the gift.

Playing Arch-Knight after beating the game was like night and day. I was no longer trepidatious, instead mantling ledges with confidence and hopping hazards with relative ease. Everything was known to me and therefore doable, I just hadn’t mastered consistent execution yet. The first half of the game was already reliably completable! Now I just had to figure out the rest with as few errors as possible.

While this wasn’t the most frustrating part of my KT completion it was the most interesting. I was back to experimenting, but this time I had data. I made jumps I never previously did, dodged in ways I never had, discovered skips I never even attempted prior despite having a limited pool of lives. I took all of the unlockable knights for a spin, an incredibly entertaining reward for having beaten the game on Knight, finding my favorite in the high-jumping Green Knight. This led to even more level-breaking shenanigans, turning KT into a lethal playground on which I could look like an Olympic-level gymnast covered in metal. Eventually, with a bit of elbow grease, I ascended once again. I am a true Arch-Knight of Trye, a title I hold with pride.

The difference between most hard-on-purpose games and Knight’s Try is that KT, despite all the challenges it levels at the player, wants you to succeed. It’s not interested in gotchas, not going to demand pixel perfection of your jumps, not about the kind of memorization reflex test that many games like it employ. Instead it’s just hard. You see what you need to do, you might even immediately see how to do it, you just need to actually pull it off. It’s a refreshing divergence from kaizo levels and YouTube reaction bait, a game that offers a quality difficulty curve throughout but never becomes spiteful. This is a straight up challenge of skill and determination, of learning from failure, of how many times you can stand back up after getting knocked down, and it is glorious.

Reviewed on itch.io version. A copy of this game was independently purchased for review.