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Coming from the twisted mind of Suda 51 and his development company Grasshopper Manufacture, along with their development partner Digital Reality, it’s no real surprise that this game isn’t exactly normal. Just like Suda put his own spin on the shump genre with Sine Mora, he’s turned his talents to the classic storybook fantasy fiction and retelling a world that so many revelled in at a young age.
Revolving around the theme of being a theatre play, the entire game takes place on a stage as you side-scroll your way through its levels that construct themselves as you walk past – complete with mysteriously invisible stage helpers. If that wasn’t enough to get your cognitive juices flowing, Black Knight Sword gives you a blast of nostalgia with its dark and mysterious narrative and wonderful platforming fun. Following the tale of the Black Knight and, rather unsurprisingly, his sword Black Hellebore Sword Fairy, you’re tasked with vanquishing the Evil White Princess and ending her reign of tyranny.
Thankfully it’s not overly complex to use, resorting to more arcade oriented controls with just two face buttons and the left trigger being used. Jump, slash and a ranged attack is all you’ve got at your disposal, and so combat and puzzles require you to think on your feet with your limited arsenal. There are also shops you can access on your travels that contain upgrades for your health and provide extra armour. By killing enemies you’ll gain the valuable hearts that serve as the in game currency. Giving these hearts to the giant talking eyeball that runs the various shops on your adventure means you’ll get the upgrades you so desire.
Also on your travels you come across microwaves. Yes, you read that right – no, I’m not going to try and figure out why they’re there. In these microwaves you’ll find lives, hearts or health. Sometimes you’ll also come across collectables in the form of cute little cat heads growing from a plant pot. Natrually these are known as Cat Head Grass and some require you to inflict damage upon yourself to actually obtain them. Snagging these wonderful grassy pussies mean that when you head to the main menu option of the same name, you can watch the moggies dance away to music – as you’d expect of course.
Being a Suda game, Black Knight Sword isn’t just an utterly bizarre game, it’s also got one heck of a difficulty curve. This can become frustrating at times, but it’s both refreshing to find a title that’s so willing to not hold your hand, and one that sticks to its pure platforming roots.
However, despite all the praises, level design is what really lets Black Knight Sword down. It can have some interesting sections now and again to separate the humdrum of platforming, but these sections don’t amount to much. Other than these moments, levels are rather basic in design – partly due to being part of a stage play – and they are utterly forgettable in comparison to the rest of the games wacky and almost disturbing style. Perhaps this is because Grasshopper and Digital Reality would rather have kept things simple like much of the game, but it’s not done well.
Suda 51 has placed his iconic mark on the classic platformer with Black Knight Sword. His trademark mixture of utterly bizarre and wonderfully strange experiences is prevalent throughout, but unfortunately it’s not the best example of the genius that is Suda 51’s brain. It has fantastic bosses and creature design, a refreshing return to platform gaming roots and a charmingly simple story, but it’s hard to fall entirely in love with it when level design feels so drab and dull. A sterling effort into a different genre, and one that deserves to be played just for being different – just don’t expect anything groundbreaking.
Audio/Visual – 4/5: Distinct visual style and a simple soundtrack that blends well with the to create a a mysterious atmosphere around the game.
Gameplay – 4/5: A simple platforming affair with a 3 button gameplay experience to keep it as nostalgic as possible.
Innovation – 3/5: A mysterious and dark twist on the classic platforming genre, but lacks real innovation.
Value – 4/5: Worth it if you want a game that harks back to the days of platform gaming, especially at this price.
Final Score: 3.5/5