Knights Contract Cuts Its Way Through A Quickly Crowded Genre

Namco Bandai's Knights Contract is an action adventure game that combines bloody melee combat with magical spells. It's also a game that shares a major similarity to a handful of other games on the verge of release.

The "slash action" game is set in a stylized Middle Ages in Europe. The game's producer, Ryo Mito, says Knights Contract is inspired by the tales of Dr. Faust and centers on tales of witch hunts and executions. It features the kind of big, bizarre boss battles that have a recognizably Japanese flair. Mito showed portions of a fight against a gargantuan flaming chariot, its rider, horse and wheels engulfed in flames.

It was as neat to witness as Knights Contract's varied environments, which ranged from a green tinted city sewer to a molten mountain top to snow cliff edges. Nothing in Knights Contract felt too familiar, with the exception of one thing.

In Knights Contract, one person will be responsible for two characters, the burly executioner Heinrich and his witchy companion Gretchen. She's the spell caster of the two. She's also the vulnerable one. Heinrich's the brawn. Together, they must combine their powers to kill all manner of demon, hellspawn, witch hunter and other very bad things.

That one player, two character thing is happening a lot these days. Knights Contract joins games like Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, The Last Guardian, Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom and Quantum Theory in the line-up of games that has players controlling a pair, often protecting their partner, sometimes working cooperatively to solve a puzzle.

They're all games in the vein of Ico, or at least flirt with its mechanics.

Knights Contract, however, is more Ninja Gaiden-like than those games. Heinrich wields a massive executioner's blade, slicing up gruesome demons. Gretchen helps, casting offensive spells and holding spells, but is the weaker of the two. She's the one with the life bar; he's virtually invincible. When Gretchen's health depletes, Heinrich must pick her up and carry her to safety.

Knights Contract Cuts Its Way Through A Quickly Crowded Genre

Knights Contract's single-player cooperative mechanic was exploited when the game's creators showcased a boss fight that start off as a chase level. Heinrich ran toward the screen with Gretchen in his arms, unable to attack but protecting his charge from harm.

Eventually, that chase turned into a big battle, in which Gretchen's abilities were made more apparent. A giant, sinewy boss monster with two arms and one leg attacked. Gretchen cast a magic spell that issues a thick, vine-like attack. She also attacked that giant beast with a paralyzing spell that grabbed tightly onto its single leg, immobilizing it, giving Heinrich a chance to hack away.

It looked fun, if a bit confusing due to watching the game as a bystander, not a participant.

While our Knights Contract demonstration was hands-off, its bloody action, full of intensity and color—beautifully rendered on an Xbox 360—was more attractive than screen shots might indicate. It's a handsome game, slightly indistinguishable from some of its competitors, but different enough from its genre peers to make it worth keeping an eye on.

Knights Contract is currently scheduled for a 2011 release date on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.