Bizarre! Creepy! Weird!
These are exclamations that can be taken as either good or bad and in the case of Black Knight Sword it is mostly good. Straight from the crevices of an equally bizarre mind of Suda51 comes Black Knight Sword. The game opens on the scene of a freshly hung corpse who is brought back to life by the Black Hellebore as the Black Knight on an epic quest to defeat the White Princess. What comes after is fairly standard gameplay in a cross between action and platforming but with a visual flair that keeps you locked in.
Usually when doing a review I like to jump into the real ‘meat and potatoes’ of the gameplay right away but the thing that stood out the most to me is the eye candy in the game. When I used the word ‘scene’ I cannot stress enough exactly how much that rings true in Black Knight Sword. The red curtain pulls away and the whole game is played out as if it’s a stage production with hundreds of invisible stagehands changing things up as you navigate across a beautiful, if not unsettling, landscape filled with even more unsettling and strange creatures. Keeping in time with the darker tone of the narrative the scenes tend to be grim as well but not uninteresting. If I had to venture a comparison the first thing that came to mind were old Monty Python’s Flying Circus skits except now they come with a whole lot more blood and gore. It doesn’t end there however as the oddities just keep coming your way. Repeatedly stabbing a microwave until it shorts out and spills human hearts (the in game currency, how’s that for weird?) into the environment and then spending those hearts on upgrades from a giant, six mouthed, laser shooting eyeball. Suffice it to say the visuals are the best card that Black Knight Sword has to play.
Working hand in hand with the visual beauty is the narrator who tells you the story in real-time with grim poetic refrain. It’s not heavy handed though as the narrator pipes in very rarely. In a way it reminded me of the ever present narrator in the downloadable title Bastion which I found to be a brilliant touch. Any other voice over work really harkens back to Monty Python as well with high pitched squealing being the preferred delivery. I’d certainly like to get into Suda’s head to see if he did indeed draw inspiration from the British comedy troupe as the similarities are just too close to dismiss. Keeping with the theatrical presentation, you have an audience that cheers, jeers and groans depending on your ‘performance’ in game. The background music meshes well too setting that creepy tone just right. When put together, the visual and audio experience is what will keep you coming back to slog through what is admittedly a difficult if not simple to play game.
Unfortunately, despite the audio and visual positives, they aren’t enough to save the gameplay from mediocrity. I realize that saying the game is difficult but simple sounds like a bit of an oxymoron but it’s undoubtedly true. There is not a lot to master but the game is absolutely punishing even on the normal setting. Controller crushing frustration abounds whether it’s from enemies or a missed jump and I walked away from the TV on more than one occasion. At your disposal you have the double jump, the sword attack, the Black Hellebore throw for hitting things at a distance and an awkward, reverse only evade function. That’s the basics and despite some upgrade type attacks available, you will spend the majority of the game using those basic attacks. Apart from ramping up in difficulty stage to stage the gameplay itself never changes much which in turn makes the experience a bit of a chore as you advance. As I mentioned before the unique art and underlying bit of story are the keys to keep you button mashing. A positive at least is that the game controls well. I felt very in control of the Black Knight only missing the odd jump here or there which had more to do with my reflexes than responsiveness.
The campaign experience isn’t a long one and despite finding the cat grass collectibles you won’t have much of a reason to go back. There is a challenge mode but it’s just as frustrating as the campaign and it has little reward aside from bragging rights over the leaderboards. I admit that I pretty much gave it nothing more than a passing glance.
Ultimately I found Black Knight Sword for the PlayStation Network to be wonderfully creepy as I really appreciated Suda51’s artistic vision. Shortcomings aside the unique visual experience that Black Knight Sword offers up is well worth a few hours of your time. At a price tag of $9.99 you certainly can’t go wrong; however, just do not expect an experience you will come back to after you have put the game through its paces.