Version tested: Retro
Despite being the third release in Ultimate's near-legendary Sabreman series, it's since beenconfirmed that Knight Lore was completed before Sabre Wulf. A revelation which, if anything, makes the isometric 3D engine even more impressive.
Along with this perspective change, Ultimate delivered its usual, overtly ambiguous instructions and allowed players to pretty much get on with things. "Things," in this instance, involve traipsing between single-screen rooms in the hunt for items to be dunked inside a wizard's bubbling cauldron. Doing this will reverse a bothersome affliction which regularly turns our pitch-helmeted hero into a Werewolf (via a bizarre freak-out animation), before it becomes permanent. But time is ticking away...
Each room of the castle maze is a set-piece affair, generally containing monsters or fiendish traps (too fiendish in some cases - like the infamous hidden spikes). In order to beat each room, tactics, timing and cunning must be employed in equal measure, and it sometimes pays to approach a problem with one specific side of your split personality. Certain monsters, for example, will home in on the Werewulf, but largely leave Sabreman be. For this reason, it's also vital to keep an eye on the daylight meter at the bottom of the screen, lest a manoeuvre be ruined by an ill-timed lycanthropic transformation.
At the time of release the graphics understandably drew much attention, but Knight Lore is more than just a looker. Though a touch frustrating at times, the game has the hallmarks of a thoughtfully crafted Ultimate title - not least the two differing control methods to help players cope with the move to 3D - and the influence of its innovative gameplay is clear in later 8-bit creations. In particular, the duality of the main character would be brilliantly expanded upon by Ritman and Drummond's Head Over Heels.
8 / 10