Developed by PestoForce. Published by PestoForce and Armor Games. Releases June 24, 2015. Available on PC (reviewed), Mac, and Linux. Review copy provided by publisher.
Retro games are a big deal right now, and I couldn't be happier. I love seeing devs who grew up on classics release their own unique takes on the medium, from Super Meat Boy's brutal platforming to Half Minute Hero's hyper-condensed JRPG gameplay. But what makes Super Chibi Knight great isn't that it features RPG mechanics, Legend of Zelda adventuring, and the ability to ride giant mounts into battle - although it does all these things. It's that it brings a new generation of gamers into the creation process, using an eight-year old as its sole voice actor. When that's your baseline, how is it possible to be any more charming?
Super Chibi Knight is a retro-style RPG platformer in the spirit of classics like The Legend of Zelda II. Your character is a girl from the Kingdom of Oukoko who - without needing any sort of tragic backstory - decides to defeat the evil General Tso who threatens the entire world. To beat him she'll need to train her combat abilities, gain powerful equipment, and become an expert in one of two schools, the spellcasting Sorcerers or the animal-commanding Beastmasters.
First and foremost, Super Chibi Knight is an adorable game. The cartoonish animation style is lovingly crafted, and the voice acting - performed solo by the developer's daughter - gives it an incredible personality and charm that's completely endearing. It feels like the classic platformers we played on Super Nintendo consoles long ago, complete with retro graphics and a high difficulty curve, but without the frustrations of limited lives and Game Over screens.
But Super Chibi Knight doesn't rely on charm alone, it also ties in RPG mechanics. Your character starts the game as a cheek-pinchingly cute child with a lowly wooden sword completely outclassed by... well, everything. But as you explore the game world, uncovering side quests, shops, and giant bags of XP, you'll obtain upgrades that are enchanting and reflect advanced abilities. Each level-up is equal parts useful and adorable, and eventually the young hero will become an impressive badass before your eyes. Your armor and weapon upgrades are fixed, but you can still swap between them while keeping the benefits of the most powerful item.
Where you do get a choice is between the Sorcerer and Beastmaster branches. At the end of the game's first act, you can either access the mountain society of the Beastmasters or take a ship to the Sorcerers' island. This choice isn't be explicitly advertised - just implied through the game's lore. So if you were hoping to be a Beastmaster but stepped on the boat thinking you could return to the island? Too bad - the game will autosave and you'll have to start from the beginning.
Once you've arrived at your chosen path, you'll seek out upgrades that go beyond straightforward hack and slash combat. Finding specific sorcerers lets you use a special meter to cast heal spells, call lightning, or create a personal shield. Beastmasters, meanwhile, summon powerful animal mounts - like armored creatures who resist damage or a dragon that can fly across the map shooting fire. Once you've trained to your satisfaction, the hero can return to her home town and defeat General Tso once and for all.