Black Knight Sword gives the feeling of a very demented fairy tale through its story and unique graphical style that I enjoyed, even though the jumping is a little stiff and the controls can seem unresponsive at times.
Black Knight Sword is the newest title from Grasshopper Manufacture whose past titles have been… interesting to say the least. Knowing this I expected something different then a normal action platformer when I started playing Black Knight, and that is exactly what I got.
Before you even start playing the first thing that really pops out at you is the presentation. Curtains adorn the sides and top of the screen and you hear murmuring and laughter from the “audience” as the game starts up. The game is literally a production reminiscent of Kamishibai, an ancient form of Japanese story telling that uses picture scrolls to tell its story, with the backgrounds and characters having a hand drawn flat paper look to them. As in a production, when a change of scene takes place the backgrounds transition off the screen piece by piece as new ones replace it, which makes for a really cool looking effect. The production is something to behold and is not only interesting to look at but is something unique that I haven’t seen a game do before.
This does lead to a problem while playing though. Since your character is fairly big and the curtains cover up part of the screen there are times later in the game when you can’t really see as much as you would want, leading to some cheap hits and foiled jumps. This is remedied slightly by the fact that you can move the focus of the camera around you to see, but this seems more like an easy fix rather than solving the problem. I also experienced some graphical glitches throughout the game with some backgrounds changing color for short moments and the screen briefly flashing red at times. While not game breaking, I did find these to be quite annoying.
The game also has an interesting soundtrack that seems odd and uneven with plenty of random ambient sounds and people chanting, laughing, and even talking gibberish at times. But this non-traditional soundtrack fits in rather well with the style of the game pairing up well with the narrator who chimes in during play to present the story and comment on the situation.
Right from the opening scene you will get an understanding why the game carries an M rating. This only continues as you venture into the world that is filled with creatures that gush blood with every swipe of your sword and leave hearts for you to collect to use as currency. These are not your normal fantasy type creatures either, no these are the things of nightmares. You have enemies like a two headed person that clucks like a chicken and throws eggs, headless birdmen that have eagles for hands, wrinkly old men heads with legs coming out of where their ears should be, and an unkillable female humanoid that jumps on you and…ah… makes sexual noises. The bosses that you face are also fairly unique and interesting to fight, especially the final one.
To take on his enemies the Black Knight is equipped with a few different attacks to put an end to these creatures. His main abilities stem from the Black Hellebore, a headless ghost creature that shape shifts into the sword that he bears and allows you to double jump (literally off her head), which of course is a standard for any good platformer. She can also be charged and shot out from you to do some slight damage to enemies and to give form to transparent blocks so they can be jumped on. There is a bit of a trade-off for doing this though. Since she is your sword you lose the ability to properly attack and you can’t double jump, leaving you slightly at a disadvantage for a few seconds. As you complete each level you also will unlock new attacks, such as magic, a charge attack, and the ability to consume hearts to do a powerful slash attack.
For the most part I found the controls worked well but there were definitely moments in the game where what was thrown at you seemed a bit unfair compared to how quickly you could maneuver, making it very easy to lose major health at times. Same goes with the platforming, with certain jumps needing near perfect accuracy while you also try to dodge and attack enemies. Thankfully for how strict the jumping can be, the game has very few sections that auto kill you. Most of the time you will just lose some health which really prevented a lot of frustration during the harder sections.
As I mentioned above enemy hearts is what you use for currency. As odd as that is, the store where you spend them is even odder. While playing, you will come across flying eyeballs that are trapped in cages sitting on top of a dancing and singing leg. Once you free the eyeball and touch them the store keeper appears, a giant eye ball with mouths surrounding it that sounds like the narrator doing his best female voice impression. Feeding these mouths your precious hearts will allow you to upgrade different things like the Black Knight’s armour and max health.
This oddness continues with the main collectable in the game: Cat Head Grass. Hidden throughout each level are three or four pots of Cat Head Grass, which are literally cat heads in plant pots. Not only does collecting these increase your score they also go to the Cat Head Garden that can be accessed from the main menu. Once you visit the garden the ones that you have collected will meow, bow, and then dance for you. I really couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried and the first time I seen this I was pretty much speechless with (what I assume) to be a very weird expression on my face.
One aspect of the game that might screw up some players though is that the game lacks an autosave. The game allows you to save anywhere through the start menu, but your progress is not saved exactly where you save the game. Throughout each level there are checkpoints that you are brought back to if you happen to die and these are also where your progress gets saved. Because of this it is fairly easy to lose progress (at least when you first start playing) if you don’t watch what you are doing and understand how the system works. This also means that the lives system is pretty much a useless addition. If you lose your last life you can restart the level, but you lose all your upgrades, hearts, and your score is reset. But as long as you’re mindful of saving at checkpoints you should never run into this situation and you can just reload your save from the last checkpoint.
The game has five different areas that you travel through with each taking around 30 minutes to complete. While this might not seem long overall each level offers a lot of challenge and variation that made me interested in seeing what the next area held. These levels where far from predictable with one even turning into a SHMUP half way through. After you finish the final boss you unlock the ability to replay the game with harder enemies to face with all your abilities and stats still unlocked. While I like having this new game plus mode to add some replayability, I didn’t like that the game requires you to play through this second time to see the real ending and last boss. The first time you finish the game it abruptly ends and, while it does technically conclude, is far from satisfying.
Besides the campaign the game also includes practice, challenge, and arcade modes. Practice is basically just a single level mode allowing you to play through any level that is unlocked. Arcade mode presents an even harder difficulty then the second playthrough of the campaign, changing the layout of the levels slightly and adding in more enemies. This mode also gets rid of saving and adds a time limit so you really do have to master the controls and be cautious of your actions to be able to make it through alive. Lastly there is challenge mode which presents different situations where you must make it the exit as fast as you can with restrictions like having only one health. Once a challenge is complete you are given a letter rank depending on how long it took you to complete and once you finish five you unlock more to go through. This mode was quite enjoyable offering a lot of variety that had me playing in a different way than the campaign and I can see this being a big reason for me to jump back into the game.
Black Knight Sword started off weird and continued to escalate throughout, giving the feeling of a very demented fairy tale through its story and unique graphical style that I enjoyed. It offers decent fighting and platforming with a good challenge that rarely hit the frustration level for me even though the jumping is a little stiff and the controls can seem unresponsive at times. Forcing you to play through the campaign a second time in order to see the true ending is a pain, but the game offers enough content through the arcade and challenge modes to keep you busy for a while.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here. This review is for the PlayStation 3 version of the game.
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Release Date:December 2012, January 2013
Price:$9.99, £7.99/€9.99, ¥1000