Black Knight Sword Review
I am not prone to whining. Even if a game is simply too difficult for me, I will accept that it’s designed specifically for a certain group of gamers, of which I am not a part. However, I am only willing to make that concession if the game in question is a high-quality product, if the difficulty is more of a steep yet relatively fair challenge. When a developer goes too far or mechanical issues get in the way, that’s just plain frustrating, regardless of your personal preferences and taste. Black Knight Sword straddles the line…it’s fair and unfair alternatively. I’ll explain.
The visual presentation is awfully interesting, despite my aversion to the somewhat drab and repetitive color scheme. There’s a whole lot of red and tan; even colors that should be in entirely different spectrums (like green, for instance) somehow manage to adopt or red or tan tinge. But the art style is undeniably unique and very interesting, as it’s kinda like playing on a stage set; it actually reminded me of the previews we’ve seen of Puppeteer. The special effects are mostly limited to sprays of blood and minor flashes of fun; in general, the original presentation saves the day, especially if you can appreciate this particular flair.
The sound is just as intriguing, as the soundtrack features a really odd mix of strange selections, and the effects are appropriately sharp and kooky. The narrator is solid – although it got annoying when he kept repeating the same low-health warning – and the combination of the wacky backdrops and decidedly odd score gives this game a singular style. The audio balancing is decent and variety isn’t bad, although much like the graphics, it can feel a little repetitive the longer you play. In short, Black Knight Sword is like a pocket-sized spectacle, the likes of which you probably haven’t seen before. Not technically special, but artistically special.
If you were a fan of the challenging old-school side-scrollers of yesteryear, you’ll probably want to give this one a try. Grasshopper Manufacture, the developer that brought you Shadows of the Damned and Lollipop Chainsaw was at the helm and that much is obvious based simply on the outlandish design. You’ll be smiling within the first five minutes because the zany atmosphere, setting and premise (yeah, there is one) is definitely worth seeing. But while the game remains entertaining, the irritation quickly starts to mount when you realize two things: 1. The game isn’t mechanically perfect, and 2. You better have some masochist blood in you.
If you don’t have much patience and you didn’t grow up with teeth-grinding, controller-crunching toughies like the Contra or Shinobi games, you should probably avoid Black Knight Sword. On the flip side, if you’re curious to see just how difficult video games used to be back in the day, this is a perfect example. In fact, the gameplay reminds me very much of Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, another virtually impossible game from the olden days, which could also be highly entertaining in its own way. Grasshopper just expects you to be patient, diligent, and absolutely persevering in every sense of the word.
The main character – the Black Knight – actually has some weight to him; he doesn’t move as lightly or as quickly as you might expect. This is both good and bad, as the control avoids being too loose, while at the same time, you lack some extra agility that really could’ve helped. You can jump, double jump, evade via dodge roll, and attack in a variety of different directions. Vanquishing enemies yields hearts that replenish health and act as currency, which can be used to purchase various items and upgrades. This is a classic side-scroller so you come across the shops in a linear fashion as you progress. It all works well, but there are a few eccentricities.
The first is the knight’s standard attack. It’s not a swipe or two with a sword; rather, it’s a series of very fast jabs, almost like he’s wielding a spear. And in fact, maybe that is in fact what he’s holding…it’s kinda hard to tell because of the design choices. Anyway, it’s a weird choice because he doesn’t have the range you would expect. Then there’s the dodge-roll, which – in terms of mechanical implementation – is a flat-out mistake. You crouch by pressing down on the left analog, which causes frequent and extremely vexing moments where you’re crouching without any desire to crouch. You can also only evade when crouched, and it’s hard to get him to roll in the right direction; I rolled into enemies way too often.
Blending the crouch with the dodge was a poor choice and it makes much of the control feel cumbersome. It’s too bad, too, because the rest of the game feels just about right. The enemies are strange and interesting, the overall presentation adds a great deal to the experience, and the challenge is obvious. You do get that good ol’ feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment upon conquering especially difficult sections but at the same time, you often feel overmatched. Too many deaths feel cheap, primarily due to the mechanical issues mentioned above. You get used to it but I shouldn’t have to “get used” to drawbacks. That implies a lack of polish.
On the plus side, there is a lot to like about the game. The mere fact that it’s a true-blue side-scrolling platformer/action title should mean a lot to veteran hardcore players, and the artistry and highly creative and imaginative design is fantastic. Even if it isn’t technically superior – in either the visual or the control categories – it still exudes a singular charm that makes the adventure awfully appealing. I kept trying almost entirely because of that engaging and unique palette, and that alone might be enough to entice potential purchasers. Obviously, though, you have fair warning— It ain't easy, and a portion of that stiff challenge doesn’t feel quite right.
Black Knight Sword is a throwback to the days when side-scrolling was the norm, when high difficulty was common, and when broken controllers were a standard issue among pissed-off gamers. But this also has a style all its own, thanks to the talented designers and artists on Grasshopper’s team. Despite the mechanical and control issues, the apparent cheapness of some of the many deaths, and a few poor decisions, the game does have at least some appeal. I probably don’t have to say much else. If this is the type of game you’d love, you already know it. If not, a pass should be equally clear.
The Good: Unique creative presentation and interesting audio. Lots of funky design. Side-scrolling throwback is great for gaming vets. Challenging and rewarding.
The Bad: Can be too frustrating. Dodge-roll isn’t properly implemented. Too many deaths feels cheap.
The Ugly: “I haven’t thrown a controller in a very long time, but…”
12/11/2012 Ben Dutka