I know what you’re thinking, “I'm really tired of Mario Kart. Isn’t there something similar, but with swords?” Well look no further! Quest of Graal DX by Pixel Architect, is a side-scrolling racing game where players use fantasy/medieval-themed powerups to fight through obstacles, opponents, and get to the end first. Perfect for solo players needing that racing itch, or for a group of friends interested in some light competition.

A standard game starts with players huddled at one edge of the screen, wielding a mere stick. By pressing right or left, players run towards the cup. Along the journey you’ll find multiple kinds of items and equipment: there are magic beans that block players with vines, extra jumping potion, thunder clouds that slow down opponents, and various others. What makes the game special are the warrior statues. By standing in front of a statue, you become a unique warrior that has a good whacking weapon and a special power like grappling, turning into a snake, or dashing forward (my favorite is the levitating). These warriors also provide you with more armor. It’s not like you can die during the race, but you can stop or be transported backwards, so having armor doesn’t slow you down as much when you are hit. 

Quest of Graal DX offers different modes, including a dodgeball mode, a timed mode, and 5 series of tracks like what you’d see on a Mario Kart Grand Prix (and also some secret stuff which I won’t get into). While the game feels like it was made to play with AI, up to four players can play locally on the racing and dodgeball modes. Quest of Graal DX extends playtime by adding a customizable track maker, which is the icing on the cake. If you were to have a group of friends, or a family that enjoys playing games together, I can see this game giving you quite a good amount of play time. Getting through the story and unlocking all the content took me about three hours to do, which didn’t seem too much, but for a small racing game it was worth the price and the developers obviously put a lot of time into making the game look nice and function well.

Racing scene
Look at those peaceful blobs. Too bad they will have to be destroyed.

While the game left me feeling happy, there were some negatives I should point out. Perhaps I’m an undiscovered platforming master, but racing against the computers wasn't that difficult. It was only until the underwater levels that I finally didn’t reach first place, but of course underwater levels in any game are tricky because gravity is perceptibly different than the rest of the game. The racing also had problems with balancing. In racing games that use power ups, typically the farther behind you are in the race, the more likely you are to get a power up that springs you ahead. This is due to giving the race a “push and pull” feeling. If it doesn’t appear that you can get ahead or someone can catch up to you, then the game doesn’t feel as exciting. Quest of Graal had this problem because while there were special power ups locked in chests or items like a racehorse sitting nearby, the players ahead still had good weapons, that being the warrior suits. Playing against the AI (note: I didn’t play any local multiplayer, as my cat didn’t want to play and it didn’t progress the story), I was usually in the far lead. This might be because the developers were expecting players would focus more on fighting each other, when in reality it just slowed you down, so fighting was unnecessary.

The story behind what was happening was interesting and light-hearted. The story was represented in small animated stills with the text underneath, kind of like a little storybook. I won’t get into depth on what it was, as it’s the only thing you unlock when completing tournaments, but it made the gameplay more cohesive as it told the player why they’re racing for a goblet.

I think the biggest confusion I had was the gallery menu. I’m not a player that focuses on cosmetics and achievements, so I got stuck when trying to unlock the final parts of Quest of Graal. This is because you have to go into the Gallery menu and watch all the stories you unlocked. It’s only until you watch them all that you unlock the final parts of the game. From a user interface design perspective, this is okay, because the options for stories don’t clutter up the game menu when trying to play, but keeping them in a separate menu from the gameplay makes them feel separate from Quest of Graal, and not a direct correlation to the gameplay that it has. What would have been better in my opinion would be instead of giving me a notification saying that I unlocked a new chapter of story (which I couldn’t even find at first, so I assumed it was a cosmetic thing that was important), just play the story as soon as I unlocked it. This would make the story feel more cohesive to the gameplay, and get me excited to play the next level to get the new chapter.

Story view
I wasn't ready for a full-on movie experience. I should've made some popcorn.

What made me want to play Quest of Graal in the first place was the art. With its clean animation and colors that pop, this game is very pleasing to the eye. The characters you get to play are all fun, and it all adds to the silliness the game is trying to portray. The obstacles and monsters are cute and goofy. It’s one of those games that have a lot of strong user feedback, or what some like to call “juice.”

Audio is what I expected when playing a juicy pixel art game: bright, fun, and FamiTracker-esque. The sounds and music were well mixed, with nothing jumping out at you or sounds not playing when you expected them to. Good audio is meant to blend with the rest of Quest of Graal, where it fits the game so well it’s almost unnoticeable, and this was a great example of audio that was well done. I found myself humming along and reacting to the item sounds as I avoided trying to be hit with a thunderbolt once again.

To summarize: Fun gameplay that would be great with a group of friends or family, just needs a little work on balancing or making the AI more difficult for those that play solo. Story was light-hearted and tied well with Quest of Graal, the connection just needed to be more obvious. Art was great to look at; silly, colorful, and juicy animations. Audio fit the game well with exciting racing tunes and well-mixed sound effects.

Dog near grail
This colorful pixel art has me drooling, and not because I'm a dog.