Knights Contract preview: To sever and protect

Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom isn't the only "partnership" game in the works at Namco Bandai and Game Republic. Knights Contract shares a similar "buddy road trip" design as Majin, but seems to lack some of the personality and charm of Game Republic's other game. I couldn't help but think, "This reminds me of Quantum Theory," while watching a hands-off demo at a recent preview event. In case you didn't know, that's not really a good thing.

You assume control of Heinrich, an executioner, cursed by the witch Gretchen and rendered immortal. The only way to break the curse is to team up with Gretchen and battle Dr. Faust, who's cursing the land with plague and monsters. It's actually a rather original spin on classic German literature. Unfortunately, none of that creativity seems to carry through in the design.

Gameplay is similar to recent action games a la God of War -- but there's a "twist." The AI-controlled Gretchen follows you into combat, enabling you to access her various witch powers and finishing moves. While you may be immortal, Gretchen is not, so you must balance protecting her and using her as an asset in battle. From what I've observed, immortality doesn't really add to the game. Namco Bandai's own Splatterhouse, for example, takes better advantage of the immortality concept by giving you the ability to swing your limbs at enemies -- even when they're detached from your body! %Gallery-93657%
The relationship between you and Gretchen opens up a lot of potential for interesting gameplay ideas, but I only saw what appeared to be a very rudimentary brawler mixed in with a persistent escort mission. Gretchen will attack enemies on her own, and while she's a decent enough fighter, you'll need to do a majority of the work to ensure she doesn't die. (Her death will equate to a game over.) Out of combat, you'll be able to carry her on your back. I'm certain the two will grow their relationship over time, but what else is there? Watch this gameplay video, and you'll notice how little Gretchen adds to the combat. What's this game's equivalent of Bayonetta's witch time? This admittedly early build just didn't have anything that really caught my attention.

Visually, Knights Contract isn't doing much to impress either. Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom isn't a particularly impressive game from a tech perspective, but it does so much with the art to craft a more convincing world. Knights Contract feels barren and downright primitive, and I can only hope that it improves when it's released in 2011.

While my first experience with the game was underwhelming, there's still potential. Given proper resources and development time, I'd love to see Knights Contract turn into something as interesting as its premise.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.