Black Knight Sword is the most recent release by the infamous Suda 51 and Grasshopper Studios (of No More Heroes and Lollipop Chainsaw fame) in conjunction with developer Digital Reality for the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade. You play a stranger! A stranger who becomes the Black Knight with the help of a mysterious Sword Spirit. The Sword Spirit summons the Black Knight to defeat the evil White Princess and bring peace to whatever kingdom this takes place in. The set-up is simple, but does it hold up?
The story is simple, doesn’t really go beyond what the opening scene sets up. Hearing that, you get the feel this is going to play out as a medieval fairy tale, but good old Suda throws a curve-ball when the first act takes place in a modern day hotel room and your character is dangling from a noose. You don’t get a whole lot of details, but that works out to the game’s favor: you aren’t bogged down by some long tale on how this Princess killed your family and you joined a resistance and that didn’t work out and so you tried killing yourself and this spirit took pity on you and blah-blah-blah. You can interpret the larger things your own way and just have fun running through the game. Did I mention the game takes place on a theatre stage in front of a watchful audience?
Here is the important bit. The gameplay has a lot of strengths, but some glaring flaws. The game plays out as 2-D side-scrolling platformer, with a lot of comparisons to be made to Ghost N’ Goblins, difficulty included. I’m not going to lie, I have yet to finish this game, been stuck on part 3 of 5 for quite some time. You get to choose the difficulty from Easy to Hard, and if you aren’t sure of your reflexes, stick to Easy. For the record, I’ve been playing on Normal. I could start a new game and speed through where I am at on Easy (the game is pretty short, heard from 4-6 hours on the long end, 2-3 on the short), but I feel like I’d be doing myself an injustice. Anyways, to start, you have only your sword and the ability to launch the Spirit at enemies, but you gain more abilities as you progress, unlocked by beating Bosses and buying upgrades from vendors. There is no block mechanic to speak of, only a dodge. And that’s where the gameplay takes a hit: not the lack of block, but how the dodging is done. You have to crouch and hit the jump button to evade hits, but in the middle of combat there isn’t a fluid way to do this and it’s easy to start eating hits as the difficulty ramps up. For such a big part of the gameplay, it should have been done better.
Visuals and Sound
Both are fantastic here: everything is in this weird paper cut-out, marionette-like style (if you’ve played Shadows of the Damned, the game looks real similar to the loading screens in between chapters) and it really stands out from the pack. The loading screen brings up the audience and you can see the smoke effects from one viewer’s cigarette and it’s all neat to see. And the sound? Akira Yamaoka (the legendary composer who did the music for the first 8 Silent Hills and Shadows of the Damned) works his magic once again with this title and once again proves why he is one of the best composers in this business.
Black Knight Sword is a great little downloadable title. It’s short enough where you won’t need to devote a whole lot of time to getting the most of it, but has enough extras to keep you entertained well after you conquer the White Princess (NG+ with a secret ending, an Arcade mode, unlockables to be found throughout levels, and even a score mechanic built and leaderboards for score chasing). While I want to say it’s the best PSN title I’ve played this year, the not-so-fluid gameplay really brings it down a few points. Though for $9.99, it’s a great little game, check it out.
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Publisher/Developer: Grasshopper Studios, Digital Reality
Release Date: December 11, 2012
Price: $9.99/800 MS points