Black Knight Sword managed to sneak up on me. Despite adoring Sine Mora, the first game by the Grasshopper and Digital Reality double team, and my attempts to follow the game, I just completely lost track of Black Knight Sword. It arrived with little fanfare and very little critical reception leaving the game seemingly ignored. However, I jumped right in, ready and willing to experience the new title by these fantastic developers.
Now, the first thing you’ll notice when you load up Black Knight Sword is the exceptional presentation. Everything is framed by a stage, akin to fights in Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, and the openings of each stage plays out as if it really is the opening of a stage in a theater, as we have the beginnings of a story explained to us. The players on the stage are all papercraft characters or puppets with an incredibly unique art style, one that is slightly grotesque throughout the entire game. This gives a feeling of a dark fairy tale, a tale that never feels safe and layers on a thick atmosphere of dread despite the jovial sound effects. Sadly, the fantastic art style can leave certain areas to appear slightly muddy, leaving the Black Knight to sometimes be lost within the background which can cause incredible annoyance due to the pixel perfect nature of many of the platforming sections, despite only occurring a few times in the story.
It’s a rather simple game overall. Black Knight Sword resembles early Castlevania games in both the platforming whilst vanquishing foes element and the unforgiving, yet fair difficulty level. One attack button, one button to call forth a small projectile that can also cast magic or push switches and one button to jump and dodge roll with. Yes, the dodge roll is mapped to the jump button, executed when you hold down and press it. This is by far the worst thing about the control scheme as it is simply the worst place to map such a vital part of the game and most of your deaths will be accidental rolls when the action gets intense.
The slow drip of power-ups is slightly too slow and you’ve got to question why the charge slash was held back until stage 2 is conquered as it’s an incredibly useful tool, one that improves the whole experience due to the tactical uses having an arching slash rather than the fast stab that has to be relied on beforehand. However, each power-up is unique as there is such a small number and all help the player to feel incredibly powerful but still just frail enough that caution has always got to be exercised.
Throughout Black Knight Sword, you’ll come across many enemies. Large, clucking men that throw blue balls, heads with arms that saunter towards the player and even bikes fashioned from living pigs, it’s all very weird in typical Grasshopper style. Sine Mora felt like it was more Digital Reality’s game whereas it’s the complete opposite here, simply due to the absurd nature of, well, just about everything that occurs. Where the enemy design is at it’s finest is when bosses are encountered. Sure, the stage one boss is recycled a fairly large amount throughout but the other 4 are all exquisitely designed battles that challenge every skill you have to that point. Highlights are riding a bullet spewing chicken while battling a large face with wings and the final boss that is simply a fantastically designed fight that will take many attempts as you learn to counter every move she makes, which is incredibly satisfying to perform.
The five stage story is far lengthier than it seems, as each stage takes upwards of 30 minutes. Even then, a 25 mission challenge mode is also available that challenges you to complete very specific levels and compete in leaderboards. It’s a shame the slightly sluggish controls put a damper on your attempts to climb the leaderboards but it’s more of a novelty mode than anything truly meaty.
I really enjoyed Black Knight Sword. It’s a shame the core gameplay is slightly scuppered by an awkward dodge roll and sluggish controls, but it’s still a blast to play. If you enjoy challenging games or early Castlevania then this will be right up your alley. It exudes a feel that isn’t really felt in many modern games and for that, it should be applauded. Oh, and wear a pair of headphones while playing. The soundtrack is stunning.
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