“Well, that was odd.” It’s a pretty standard sentiment to have after finishing any of Suda 51’s game, and “Black Knight Sword” is no different. From flying chickens to giant slices of bread doorways, “BKS” takes a very common video game theme, stopping evil, and, in typical Grasshopper Manufacture fashion, frames it in a virtually nonsensical setting. Reminiscent of old school platformers, “Black Knight Sword” is a call-back to all of the pain and suffering of classic games, wrapped in a pretty package. Fortunately, it also comes with the same sense of accomplishment as its 8 and 16-bit predecessors.
“Black Knight Sword” is the story of two sisters who have been at odds since they each came into existence, and it’s the Black Knight who is tasked with taking down the eviller of the girls, the White Princess. Assisted by the magical Black Helleborne (also known as the Sword Spirit and the ying to the White Princess’ yang), who also serves as the Black Knight’s sword, the game’s mysterious character must take on the monumental role of making their way through five different worlds on their journey to confront the evil Princess.
By completing levels and collecting hearts from fallen enemies the Black Knight will upgrade his attacks, as well as have the option to purchase improvements for his defenses and the Helleborne’s attacks, making him stronger as the game progresses. “Black Knight Sword” includes three separate modes for you venture through its twisted experience: Story lets you see the Black Knight’s tale from beginning to end. Arcade challenges you to survive a barrage of enemies for over twenty minutes. Challenge mode finds the Black Knight in some precarious scenarios, putting the player’s skills to the ultimate test.
At it’s core, “Black Knight Sword” is a very traditional, 2D, sidscrolling plaformer, where you have melee (sword) and ranged (Helleborne) attacks, and must take down waves of enemies while executing perfectly timed jumps. Once you get all that out of the way, that’s about where the game stops being traditional. The game’s art style, character design, and story are all completely unique, and look and feel unlike any other game on the market. The levels are all framed as if they were played out on a stage (similar to “Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door”), and the way that settings are constantly being swapped in and out, makes the game feel like an interactive play where someone is backstage shuffling pages of scenery. On top of that, the art in the game is heavily inspired by Impressionism, and “Black Knight Sword” often seems like the art team was staffed by Renior, Monet, and Degaus, than the teams at Grasshopper and Digital Reality. They should take that as a huge compliment.
While “Black Knight Sword” might have one of gaming’s most prolific visionaries at its helm, it doesn’t really bring anything new to the table. The gameplay is solid, but that’s because it’s a tried and true formula of sidscrolling and slashing. The look and feel of the game are what really makes it stand out, and while that might be enough for some people, others may find the seemingly random art distracting and incoherent. When you boil the game down, there is only one glaring issue with the package – there’s no auto save. Players are warned early on in the game about this, but it’s easily over-looked. On the plus side, you’re likely to only make this mistake once – it’s just a matter of how much game time you end up losing when you make it.
Goichi Suda, his team at Grasshopper Manufacture, and co-developers Digital Reality have come together to construct a really interesting game in Black Knight Sword. There’s something both familiar and fresh about the release that should particularly appeal to old school gaming fans. In fact, the series that it should most likely remind retro gamers of is “Ghosts’n Goblins,” with the Black Knight stepping into the armored boots of Arthur. If you decide to up the difficulty on the game, “BKS” can hang with even the most punishing games of the “GnG” series, and, (SPOILER ALERT) you’re going to have to endure two run-throughs (New Game +) of the game to get the official ending. At $10, “Black Knight Sword” is definitely worth the investment, whether you’re looking for something new and different to play, but especially if you’re a fan of Suda 51’s oddball projects.