Roulette Knight Mingles Horror & Humor With a Shot to the Head
Roulette Knight makes shooting yourself in the head far more fun than it should ever be. This game combines Russian Roulette with an RPG. If you pull the trigger without hurting yourself, you get gold and experience points. You’ll roam the land on a quest to avoid cranial damage. Buy neat tools to help yourself get stronger. It’s a strange mixture that is strangely, but deeply, fun. Just the same, it’s still got a twinge of horror every time you’re about to pull the trigger. But it’s also NOT horrifying at the same time, creating a weird balance that’s vital in a game where self harm is technically a core of the game.
CONTENT WARNING: Cartoon-like take on Self Harm
I’m not sure why you grow stronger and more resilient by nearly shooting yourself. There’s not exactly a plot behind what you’re doing. At least, not one that the game tells you about. All you know is that you’re a knight. You have a gun. For whatever reason, you keep firing it at yourself. Probably because you get stronger every time you fire on an empty chamber. RPG heroes will do real strange stuff to get tough. Anyway, the premise is fairly simple. You load one bullet into a revolver’s cylinder. Close it up and give it a spin. Pull the trigger.
If you don’t get shot, you’re in luck. Roulette Knight doesn’t just reward you with the ability to continue breathing. You gain experience each time you pull the trigger and hit an empty chamber. Experience will slowly increase your level, which allows you to increase stats like your health, mana, and evasion. Maybe even regenerate a little bit. You also get a bit of gold each time. Who’s paying you to do this, though? Doesn’t matter, I guess. You can spend that gold on items that give you more health, a greater chance to dodge a shot, or revolvers with more chambers that make you less likely to blast yourself.
The thing is, you’re rewarded for trying to take more shots in a row. You get a bonus multiplier every time you pull the trigger without shooting yourself. If you reopen the cylinder and reset the shot, you lose that bonus, though. You only keep it by increasing the risk you take with each shot, the bullet creeping ever closer to firing. You can get a lot tougher in a hurry if you keep taking these risky shots. You’re far more likely to die too, though.
Being encouraged to make dangerous decisions adds some tension to Roulette Knight. It’s easy to play it fairly safe and only take one shot at a time. However, you won’t get much stronger at this rate. As you get great bonuses from taking more than one shot, you’ll want to keep firing. Do this successfully and you gain levels and wealth. However, this increases the danger, which makes it more likely you’ll die chasing those bonuses. You want to hurry up and get stronger to survive, but doing so makes you more likely to die. But if you don’t take risks, you may die faster because you’re too weak to survive a shot (you can survive more than one hit with high health). This creates this endless cycle that makes for endless tension as, no matter what, you’re in danger. You just choose HOW you want to be in danger.
Part of that tension comes from the short animation that plays while pulling the trigger, too. Once you click the trigger with your mouse, you’ll watch the knight quiver in fear. They’ll look away from the barrel. Their hand shakes as they keep the gun trained on themselves. This moment doesn’t last very long, but at the time, it feels like it takes forever. You can’t help but feel overwhelmed by the tension of this moment as you wait and pray for that empty click. At that time, the knight slumps, gasping in relief before you receive your rewards.
The developers really worked hard to capture the terror of this moment in Roulette Knight. You get to soak in the knight’s fear, but not so long that it drags out the game. You can sense that this is a scary experience for them. From a gameplay perspective, it also pulls you into those frightened feelings. You have just enough time to take in all of the details of the knight’s fear, and all while knowing that your own game hangs on the random chance that this shot kills you or not.
You’ll screw up eventually. It’s bound to happen. While you can survive this shot, it’s still a jarring thing to watch. The bullet quickly rips through the knight’s head. A gout of blood follows it. The knight collapses a little. It happens very fast, and despite the charming pixel art, I still jump every time. The suddenness of the violence and death hits hard, even as your knight shakes it off (if you’ve got enough health).
This should be a morbid, gut-wrenching moment. However, there’s a vital goofiness to Roulette Knight, though. You’re shooting yourself in the head to get money to buy new hats and gear, after all. The whole premise is absurd. The art style is light and fun. I mean, shaking your head like a cartoon dog to shrug off a bullet to your skull is pretty silly. All of this feels designed to be light and fun, taking away from the horrific parts of the action you’re taking. I feel like it would HAVE TO BE to explore something as terrible as pointing a loaded gun at your head and pulling the trigger. It maintains a lightness in the experience.
When you click that trigger, though, that lightness disappears. Not much has changed in the presentation, though. The knight’s fear feels real and unsettling, but it’s still presented through those same lighthearted visuals. The knight’s quivering feels more like Scooby Doo than Saw. Even so, that moment when you’re waiting to find out if you’re shot or not feels frightening and disturbing. The slight shiver, the glance away, and the second of waiting are terrifying. It’s such a brief, detailed moment that preserves some of the horror of the act while making it playful enough to be fun.
Roulette Knight is a surprisingly compelling game. The systems make you want to keep taking those risky shots, and the tools and abilities help keep you alive as you cross the countryside. It’s a lot of fun, and a big part of that comes from making the shots feel playful and silly. Even so, the developers still managed to keep some of the horror in those moments when you waited to see whether the gun would fire or not. They used their charming art style to cover up some of the disturbing nature of your actions, but with the animations and the brief moment of waiting, they kept that horror firmly in place as well. It’s a wild juggling act that takes place over a few seconds, but is striking for me all the same.