December 17, 2012

All the World’s a Stage

Lasting First Impressions of Black Knight Sword

Developed by Grasshopper Manufacture  |  Published by D3Publisher

Black Knight Sword boxart» Black Knight Sword, from the crazy minds of Suda 51 and Grasshopper Manufacture, is an exercise in the absolute macabre.  It is a side-scrolling platformer harkening back to the days of old but with a new, sincerely twisted face. I had spent a short time with Black Knight Sword at PAX East 2012, where I had the distinct pleasure of meeting its creator, Suda 51, and I was utterly fascinated by the never-grounded-in-reality look to this game and the easy to grasp controls.  After that meeting, I eagerly awaited the full release of the game and sat down with it excited to delve back into the twisted fantasy of the Black Knight Sword.

Black Knight Sword takes place on a stage and and the stage parts shift and move around the player by invisible stagehands as they progress through the 5 very lengthy chapters.  Everything is designed to look and feel like an actual puppet stage complete with an audience that will cheer and boo during your “performance” and a narrator that will make himself known between the acts.  What truly makes this game stand out from other platformers of the same caliber is the overtly dark and macabre story elements.  Enemies consist of disembodied heads with legs, flying heads, horseheads on springs, all of which spew forth blood and beating human hearts as the player slashes them down with their sword, the Black Knight Sword.  Even the player himself is just an animated corpse, who was found at the onset of the story having hanged himself and, upon reanimating, found the Black Knight Sword and the spirit within it. Now he is on a quest to rid the world of the “Evil” White Princess.  Or so I’ve read. That part of the story is not quite explained when the game begins and each stage is introduced by a very weird sort of “fairytale” that don’t seem to have anything to do with each other.  Ultimately, I was left confused as to what the Black Knight Sword was even about or what I was attempting to do other than just slash my way through the levels.

Black Knight Sword screen 1

There is absolutely nothing normal about this game in terms of the visuals or even the music and sound effects. Eerie, almost out of tune piano noises are apparent throughout the game; I say noises because none of it can be considered music.  The creatures in the game all emit sounds they shouldn’t, or even sounds that just shouldn’t exist, all in an attempt, it seems to make the most bizarre and unimaginable world possible.  Fantasy realms turn into modern day, two headed men throw flaming chickens, disembodied eyeballs eat human hearts to give the player power-ups, cat-head grass is littered throughout levels as collectables (yes, they’re potted plants with a cat heads), microwave ovens act as hidden chests, and a giant wolf with a human head haunts the second stage.  It’s all very twisted, dark and incredibly disturbing.

At the end of the day, however, as unique and weird as this game is, it doesn’t bring anything new and exciting to the gameplay. It’s still just a side-scrolling hack and slash with no variety.  Pressing the X button elicits the main sword jab with other abilities achieved as each level is cleared.  None of the other abilities really outshine the simple jab of the main action though so the Black Knight never really feels all powerful. Add to that the incredible difficulty this game brings, even on Normal, and many people will find themselves throwing the controller in frustration more than they will find themselves finishing a stage.  Black Knight Sword screen 2

There are no automatic save points so players must pause the game and select Save Game if they want to come back to it at a later point; and there can only be one save file. Failing to do this, players will find themselves starting the game from the very beginning every time.  Playing the game on Easy significantly nerfs all the enemies to the point that one incredibly difficult sub-boss that took all my available magic and quite a number of hits to bring down on Normal, now only took one single magic hit.  In fact, playing on Normal mode, I couldn’t even make it to the end of chapter 1 without losing all available lives (yes you have limited lives too!).  On Easy mode, I made it all the way to the second stage boss on one life.

Black Knight Sword, while trying to be incredibly unique in its visual and audio style, never truly manages to make itself stand out as a fun game. The high difficulty and lack of variety don’t make for something that is worth revisiting over and over again.  Ultimately it’s a disturbing game in all manners and one that is hard to wrap the brain around as nothing seems to be connected in any way.

Grasshopper Manufacture, I gave you an hour and I am NOT IMPRESSED.

About the Author

Sean is an avid gamer and lover of all thing tech. He is a dedicated husband and the father to three beautiful daughters. In addition to taking his love of gaming to a new level with this site, Sean is also host of our podcasts: The OMG! Hour, Lost Treasures of Gaming, and Primetime as well as the bi-weekly podcast mashup show, Gamers Unscripted. Follow Sean on Twitter as @Xiantayne and this blog as @OMGnexus.



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  1. gwild0r

    What Year is it?! Have to manually save?!

    • Sean

      Yeah, they’ve really gone the way of the old 8 and 16-bit era but in some cases, there’s a reason we evolved gaming as we have. Automatic saving is one of those reasons.

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