Retro Game Of The Week: Knight Rider Special (PC Engine)

Knight Rider Special

Knight Rider Special does rather prove that it’s not only movies that got the slightly-janky video game adaptation curse back in the day.

In Retro Game Of The Week I pull a game from my collection and write about why it’s important or interesting. Or in some cases, badly dated and rubbish.

Knight Rider is one of those iconic 1980s action series, and just by typing those words my head is filled with the theme tune. If you’re of my vintage, that’s probably true for you as well.

The intro is filled with loads of promise, along with a tune that in the modern parlance, is an absolute banger.

Amazing stuff — and easily the second best action TV theme intro of the era*

It’s even better in Japanese, even if you don’t understand a word of Japanese.

Spoiler: The show doesn’t quite live up to that level of hype (at least in my opinion).

That Japanese link is important, because this week’s retro game of the week, Knight Rider Special, was only ever released in Japan. Yes, it’s a PC Engine game, and the PC Engine didn’t get much further from its native shores than that… except for the whole Turbo Grafx 16 in the US release that saw a host of games (including Galaga ’88, which I’ve written about before).

Knight Rider is a US series, well beloved, and you’d think it’d be a slam dunk for conversion… but it never happened.

Knight Rider Special text screen
Sure, there’s Japanese text, but very little of it… and it doesn’t impede the actual gameplay in any way. Would have taken a few minutes to translate back in the day.

Knight Rider Special is… well, it’s Chase HQ by way of OutRun, basically, which makes a heck of a lot of sense.

Knight Rider Special
Knight Rider Special even has voice samples — although in this case it’s the Japanese voice actor for KITT telling him “Let’s go Michael!”, rather than William Daniels. Being Japanese KITT, he’s actually using a form that could also mean “Shall we get going Michael, if it doesn’t impede your needs in any way because politeness is quite important?”

The key appeal of Knight Rider was always the car (though I suppose younger David Hasselhoff might have been eye candy for some of the audience… maybe?) and car chases, so putting the player behind the wheel of the Knight Industries Two Thousand (KITT) for some high speed malarkey is a sensible move.

Knight Rider Special
It was the 80s, the sky was purple a lot of the time. Blame Prince.

Though it’s perhaps not 100% show accurate, because KITT also has guns, and that was not really a big feature of the show to speak of — or at least not one that I recall.

Knight Rider
Crank up the cassette player with the finest K-Tel covers of 80s hits, KITT.
We’re going on a road trip!

So you start out on your classic scrolling parallax road, drive through a time limited section to get to a boss car character, ram it off the road that’s suddenly stopped existing (no, I have no idea why either), lather, rinse, repeat. It’s a formula that worked very well for Chase HQ and its sequels… but not so much here.

Knight Rider Special
The way that Knight Rider Special does tunnels is stupidly simple — just stop drawing things that aren’t the road, mostly — but it works!

That’s partly down to the decisions that were made around the controls. The classic PC Engine controller has two primary buttons, so you’d think one would be accelerate and one would be brake, right?

Knight Rider Special
In the words of David Lee Roth, might as well JUMP!

It certainly seems that way when you start out, because you push down and you start moving along the road. All good so far… until you suddenly fly up into the sky, because KITT can jump, you see.

That’s nicely show accurate, but just about every time you jump, you’re highly likely to crash. KITT is not a plane, so he just jumps straight forward even if the road turns, leading to the jump button — because that’s what it actually is — effectively being the crash button.

Knight Rider Special
Another jump has gone rather badly wrong.

Accelerate is actually up on the controller, which creates the classic problem scenario for games of this type where switching from steering to speed management becomes more difficult than it really should be.

Knight Rider Special
KITT is ashamed of his lousy handling, and tries to hide behind a rock.

Given the jump button isn’t super useful — even when trying to dodge boulders on the road you’re likely to hit a turn that causes you to crash regardless — I’m just not sure why they went with this control scheme.

Knight Rider Special
These boulders are a serious road hazard.
Michael should stop what he’s doing and find a payphone to call the council.

Knight Rider Special isn’t a bad game, but it’s certainly a bland one that does very little to justify that “special” suffix.

Knight Rider Special
Even a Top Gun crossover can’t quite redeem Knight Rider Special.

It seems like if you are a Knight Rider fan you’re a bit screwed in this respect; there’s a critically-derided-even-at-the-time 8 bit computer version, a Famicom game that’s basically Knight Rider Special but from inside KITT and a couple of PS2 games that were noted for… wait for it… not being fast enough.

Does ANYONE want more Acclaim power? Ever?

How to play Knight Rider: Special now

Knight Rider Special
It’s in surprisingly good condition, aside from the CD case being seriously abraded.

The above is my copy, and I kind of have it by random chance. Let me explain.

Back in 2020, there was this whole pandemic thing. You probably remember that. Nobody was going anywhere and it was generally bleak.

(Reminder: Being hygienic and considerate amongst others is and still should be a thing. Just a thought.)

Anyway, travel was off the books, and I decided I’d spend some otherwise unable-to-be-spent-travel-budget on some retro gaming goodness, as is my style.

I decided that I’d fill a hole in my gaming collection by finally getting a PC Engine and some games, because, once again, I don’t buy games to slab them in a “collection” as much as I end up “collecting” them to play them.

As such, I didn’t just want the console and a few Hu Cards to put on a shelf. I wanted games I would play. This meant using shipping agents and online auction houses and — well, look, I actually wrote about the whole thing at the time over at Kotaku, as it happens.

Also read:
How I Bought A PC Engine And Way Too Many Games In The Middle Of A Pandemic (And Why) (Kotaku)

Amongst the job lots of “junk” titles — all but one of which worked — was this copy of Knight Rider Special. I honestly didn’t see it in the pictures on the lot I bid for, and I didn’t (until) that time even know it existed. As it was part of a job lot, it’s kind of hard for me to put a value paid on it, because I absolutely did not buy it separately.

But what if you wanted a copy? Like so many licensed titles, there’s basically zero chance of it seeing light of day in a re-release, so you’d need to track down a physical copy.

Checking eBay, there’s a lot of price fluctuation on copies of Knight Rider Special, loose or boxed, with pricing anywhere from $30-$200 for sold copies.

* Knight Rider is good, but this is clearly the pinnacle of the era in terms of intros AND theme tunes. You know I’m right.

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