Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture/Digital Reality
Publisher: D3Publisher of America
Platform: 360 (XBLA), PS3 (PSN)
Release Date: December 12, 2012
An XBLA download code was supplied by the publisher for this review
Over the years, Goichi Suda (otherwise known as Suda 51) has created many unusual but intriguing titles. Under the banner of his company Grasshopper Manufacture, he and his team have made their mark on Western players with games such as Killer7 and No More Heroes. Lately, they have jumped on the digital bandwagon and created a handful of titles, some with outside help as well. As is the case with Black Knight Sword, both Grasshopper Manufacture and Digital Reality combined forces to try and create something special.
Black Knight Sword is a very distinctive game visually. By simply loading it up and checking out different options in the menu anyone will be able to see this, but the look is most drastic during gameplay. The entire screen is bordered by red curtains which give the air of a stage play. On the stage, where gameplay occurs, everything is designed to look like flat paper figures and backdrops. Although on one hand it is meant to appear as a play, it is also meant to look like a big, creepy picture book.
Gameplay is a standard mix of platforming and beat â€˜em up... at the start. You head right, left, up, and down as you traverse 2D levels with all sorts of dangers lurking. While enemies pose a big threat, so too do spikes and bottomless pits. As you play, you gain a couple special attacks and magic automatically. However, depending on difficulty and level, there will be a fair amount of times the player is required to dodge enemy bullets much like a side-scrolling shooter. It isnâ€™t tremendously complex as some can get, but definitely not something that players are probably going into the game expecting.
During these scenes, it is initially very difficult to determine your hitbox. Both characters you will be using during these scenes are fairly large and it is hard to determine where youâ€™ll be safe. After a while, you understand and learn to tune out the extraneous stuff, but that doesnâ€™t make it perfect. The sections add nothing to the game as they are not at all fun by shooter standards. Some may be humorous, but that doesnâ€™t aid it.
Grasshopperâ€™s flair for the weird is in full effect. Enemies are routinely grotesque and spew bright red blood upon death, although it is not nearly as copious as in some of their other titles. It isnâ€™t just the wrinkled or sickly faces that are disturbing either. The sounds that enemies make tend to sound like enemies are in a great deal of pain, and other times they sound scarily erotic. Although there are only maybe ten or so enemy designs, they manage to each look fairly different and most are not simply a recolor of another one.
Backgrounds have a similar polish. During levels, the background routinely is changed out as if it were a play. Certain elements in the background may even be animated or have sound effects of their own as well. Combining the backdrop with the actual levels, they fit together quite cohesively. The backdrops themselves are quite neat though as they often give you hints about the boss you will be fighting later in the level, as well as just looking very nice.
Just because things look good doesnâ€™t mean they play as well. Unfortunately this is the case with Black Knight Sword. Slashing with your sword is easy enough, but some of the new attack abilities can cause more trouble than help. For example, some ask you to hold down or up while hitting a button. That is easy enough to understand, but the game or controller itself seem to work against it. There are times that my character would simply jump instead of doing a kick or doge. As you might expect, that causes trouble when youâ€™re trying to engage in very careful combat. Because of this, most of the extra goodies probably will be ignored due to their unpredictability.
Without much else to vary fights, or even with those few extra attacks, you are still forced to play through a rather tedious game. The visuals are truly outstanding but the gameplay does not back it up. It is also tough, which will be exciting to some and offputting for others. There are three difficulty settings, ranging from easy to hard, and they mostly live up to their names. However, anything other than easy truly is a challenge. Even on easy, the final boss is a step above the rest of the game. In comparison, other difficulties are set to give you a really challenging time.
While there is nothing wrong with challenge, there is with a game that is all style and no substance. When you arenâ€™t truly compelled to play, curiosity of what the next level looks like will only take you so far. Because the game is so tough, you can spend a long time on the handful of levels it offers, but most probably will not want to. If you adore games with creative visuals then Black Knight Sword may be up your alley. Otherwise, kick back with a different Grasshopper game.
+ Fantastic backdrops which perfectly match the environment
+ Handful of creepy enemy types to defeat
- Gameplay simply cannot live up to the visuals and is dull
- Unleashing varied attacks is muddled
Overall Score: 5.5 (out of 10)
Black Knight Sword is a let down with gorgeous graphics but average gameplay underneath.