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Black Knight Sword

Score: 80%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: D3
Developer: Digital Reality
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Platformer (2D)/ Action

Graphics & Sound:

Black Knight Sword is neither the weirdest game I've played nor even the weirdest game I've reviewed in the nearly five years I've spent writing for this site. But it's weird enough to have "Cat Head Grass" as the second choice in the main menu. Weird enough to put me on the back of a giant flying laser-spitting chicken. Of course, this game comes to us from Digital Reality and Suda51's Grasshopper Manufacture, who earlier this year, gave us Sine Mora, quite possibly the most thematically demented side-scrolling shooter ever made. But is Black Knight Sword any good?

Black Knight Sword employs an aesthetic that manages to repulse and attract your attention. It looks like a theatrical presentation: one in which everything is made of paper. Backgrounds move in and out as you progress; it is abundantly clear that all of the action in this game happens in the exact same spot. Character designs impart an off-kilter sense of Carroll-esque absurdity. And the blood. Oh, my, the blood.

The borderline-psychotic presentation is taken to all new levels by the straight-up creepy sound design. Nearly everything you hear out of Black Knight Sword is an experiment in discordance and its effects as it relates to the big picture. It goes a very long way: the soothing warblings of a number of singers clash against random percussive noises and a very atonal symphony orchestra. It is the sound of madness, and the fact that it works so well in Black Knight Sword is either impressive or troubling.


Gameplay:

Black Knight Sword tells a tale we all have come to expect from the fantasy genre. A sword spirit possesses a man who seems to have been hanged (either by himself or by others) and he sets off to kill an evil princess. Wait, that's not at all what we've come to expect from the fantasy genre. But again, this is Digital Reality and Grasshopper Manufacture we're talking about. This should have been expected.

As the Black Knight, you will progress through a number of levels, slaying all manner of strange beasts with your trusty magical sword and avoiding pitfalls such as elevators that look like rabbit jaws with razor-sharp teeth and two-headed salespersons who spit deadly projectiles at you from a distance. Did I mention that this game is weird?


Difficulty:

Black Knight Sword is difficult. By XBLA standards, this one is right up there with The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai. The combat is not deep, but you must often fight while handling the platforming challenges at the same time. This is where Black Knight Sword gets its challenge, and it's a fair one. However, it respects the gamer enough to demand a lot from him/her.

Though it may not seem like it, there is a learning curve to crest. The Black Knight does not move like most other side-scrolling heroes. He has much more in common with the heroes of games like Monster Hunter and Dark Souls than he does with the agile likes of Mario and Sonic. Every step, jump, and attack must be precise and deftly measured. If you fail to meet these requirements, you will die. Black Knight Sword isn't the longest game, but there's a catch. If you lose all of your lives, you have to restart the level completely. This isn't a huge deal, but this isn't Super Meat Boy, where each level lasts thirty seconds at the maximum. Black Knight Sword's chapters can last anywhere from a half-hour to an hour. Losing definitely smarts.


Game Mechanics:

While playing Black Knight Sword, I was frequently reminded of games like Ninja Gaiden and Contra. Like Sine Mora before it, Black Knight Sword is a decidedly retro-style game. The game doesn't task you with handling a ton of disparate mechanics that do wildly different things. It mainly gives you two or three and lets the level design do the rest of the work. This may turn some gamers off; the allure of new abilities is often a tremendous incentive for players to push forward in tough times. Save for a useful charge attack halfway through the game, Black Knight Sword mainly leaves you to your own reflexes.

Black Hellebore, the sword spirit itself, can be released from the sword in a projectile attack, but you'll rarely use this ability in combat. It limits your mobility and reduces your attacking capabilities until the spirit returns to its home. Outside combat, you'll use it to turn special translucent cubes into tangible platforms.

Of course, I can't get away with mentioning the Cat Head Grass without explaining it. Scattered across the levels are potted plants with cute little cat heads in them. Mastering the nuances of the platforming elements will help you to grab these. Collected Cat Head Grass appears in a special room that can be accessed from the Main Menu. And, surprise, surprise, it's creepy.

Black Knight Sword is definitely not for everyone. It's just too weird to have anything that even resembles universal appeal. Fans of the bizarre will find something to appreciate, and fans of incredibly demanding gameplay challenges will find even more.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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