We’ve worn our love for Suda 51’s Grasshopper Manufacture on our sleeves for quite some time here at Click, unashamedly declaring our love for pretty much everything the crazy bastard and his team touch, so we were pretty damn well happy to be able to round off our gaming year with Black Knight Sword, a downloadable title available on PSN and Xbox Live Arcade which was developed alongside Digital Reality .
Like most Suda 51 games, Black Knight Sword has an incredibly distinctive aesthetic. Taking place on a theatre stage, the player’s character doesn’t technically move either right or left, rather the backdrop, assorted scenery and enemies move towards and away from the player. It sounds a little odd on paper, and in truth it’s a little odd in practice too, but it works quite well, lending the title a distinctive personality not really found elsewhere.
This unique setting also lends itself quite well to the overall look and feel of Black Knight Sword. There’s a real dark and menacing air to everything, helped in no small part by the grotesque enemies, crudely drawn and jerkily animated intentionally to drive home the quirky and edgy atmosphere the game demands. It’s a tricky look to pull off in truth, with the risk of an amateur looking production all too real if handled incorrectly, but BKS manages to pull it off with aplomb – just bear in mind that it’s not going to be to everyone’s liking.
A more traditional title than Grasshopper Manufacture’s more recent attempts, BKS is a side scrolling platformer-cum-slasher. The game world is navigated in typical side scrolling fashion, meaning you’ll be doing plenty of jumping, while enemies are dispatched either by hacking away at them with your sword, or calling forth some dark magic.
Things are added further depth by the presence of some basic puzzle elements. Shooting your magic at certain blocks will activate them, creating platforms for you to scale, or removing potential obstacles from your route. As we said, it’s quite basic, but when it works it’s actually quite fun at times.
So, they’re the basics, but how does it play?
At first, the sheer bizarreness of the game plays to its advantage. The first few levels are routine enough, edging you into the basics of the core gameplay and introducing some of the more common foes you’ll face – and when we say common, we mean the same odd little face creatures over and over again, what feels like a million times per level. Dispatching them with a few swipes of your sword will reward you with hearts; not the usual videogame hearts, mind, but rather anatomically correct ones – right on track with the game’s overall feel.
Soon you’ll be introduced to the game’s shop system. By releasing a baby eyeball from a birdcage settled atop a dismembered leg, you’ll be able to swap your collected hearts with giant mummy eyeball for an assortment of health regens, increased vitality and other assorted goodies. At this point of the review you’re probably starting to get an idea just how off the wall the whole thing is – thankfully it’s not that forced crazy you often happen across, but rather full-on batshit mental. Which makes the whole thing even more unsettling.
Given our penchant for classic gameplay, platforming and basic puzzles, we were expecting to absolutely love BKS by the time the first level was done. Unfortunately, that optimism was quickly sapped away and replaced with a similar dose of frustration. As you progress, you’re going to die quite a bit. You’ll jump to reach a platform only to smash into a ledge that was completely indistinguishable from the background, sending you falling to face the climb again, if you’re lucky enough not to land on a hazard and see the last of your life drain away.
This probably wouldn’t be quite so bad if there was some form of cohesive narrative there to keep you going, but there’s little here aside from some random nonsense that makes very little sense at all. There’s not even any real sense of consistency in the game’s locales, bouncing randomly from one area to the next as you progress though the levels. It’s as jarring as it is insane.
Now, if it sounds like we’re making Black Knight Sword out to be a stinker, that’s not the case. It’s actually a reasonably entertaining oldschool bit of fun. You’ll certainly be able to eek more than a touch of enjoyment from it, between your bouts of frustration fuelled swearing of course, and there’s definitely a lot to marvel at in terms of artistic direction. It’s just that the seemingly endless swarms of the same enemies over and over again do very little to make the levels stand out from each other – the whole thing becomes a flurry of oddness, interspersed with the odd puzzle and some jumping.
When compared to the other output of Grasshopper, Black Sword Knight is a disappointment, but taken on its own merits it’s worth a look if you fancy getting back to basics for the three or four hours it’ll take you to get bored with it.