Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Black Knight Sword (PSN) Review

The new action platformer from Grasshopper Manufacture and Digital Reality has recently been released on PSN and Xbox Live Arcade.  Take control of the Black Knight and attempt to defeat the evil Princess in this 2D action platformer.

So what happens when the art styles of Monty Python and Castlevania have a baby?  You get the look of Black Knight Sword.  The game is presented like a puppet show with background scenery changing as you make your way through the levels.  There is also a slight hand-drawn look to the game, which suits it well.  The border of the screen is the curtains for a stage, furthering the idea of this as a puppet show.  Since this takes up part of the screen, I wonder how it looks on SDTVs, since it doesn't interfere much with a widescreen TV.  Bonus points for the loading screen, which has silhouettes of the audience pop up, and one of them has steam from  Some kind of drink.  It seems like it would make more sense as a cigarette or something, but looks like a cup.  Either way, it's a nice touch that cements the look and theme of the game.  There is also copious amounts of blood in the game, so if you are squeamish, you might want to shy away.

The music is pretty good, and like most games, fits the style.  Blood sounds suitably gushy and monsters make appropriate noise like howling and clucking and such.  Intros and outros to stages are done by the narrator, who has a great, deep voice.  He sounds just creepy enough to really sell the crazy nature of this game.  Actually, he reminds me a bit of the late, great Tony Jay.

You don't get many buttons in Black Knight Sword, and you don't need them.  You can run, (double) jump, stab and throw out your sword (she's actually an evil doll-looking creature named Hellebore) to hit switches.  You later unlock magic and charged attacks (including a flash kick!).  One really nice and useful ability is stabbing in multiple directions.  You can attack straight up, up at an angle or croutch and stab for low enemies.  This is very useful for hitting airborne enemies.  You can roll, but it seems fickle on if you get invinciblity from it or not.  It might be like Monster Hunter's roll, where only certain frames are invincible, but I'm not sure.  You also have to be careful when trying to do it quickly, as you can't cut your attack animation to do it.  This usually leads to getting hit more often that you would want to

The game has fairly simple controls, but can get challenging.  It hasn't been controller-throwing hard by any means, but some parts and boss fights can be tough.  Thankfully, you can take some time to figure out how to fight a monster and what to do to proceed, so it wasn't that frustrating the first time through.  I will note that stage 3 reminded me of the dreaded "clock tower" stages from various Castlevanias, but thankfully there are no medusa heads (or equivalents) to be found here.  The end of that stage had a lengthy part that was very much like a plane shooter (shmup), and was a cool part to do.  The boss took a good amount of hits and was trying his best to make it a bullet hell (and partially succeeding).  I play several shmups, so I was right at home, but I don't know how others will fair.

The game only has 5 stages, but each is fairly long and ends with a boss fight.  You get some replay time from trying to find all of the cat grass pots in each stage and trying to go for the trophies will add a time or two through the game unless you are super good the first time through and beat the game without dying, on hard and without the shop.  Good luck with that, the rest of us will just go through the game a few times and save ourselves the frustration.  There's also some challenge stages, which thankfully you unlock in groups so if you are stuck on one, you can just try another.  The biggest fault with these is they don't really give you any info on what you need to do other than "reach the door" and how much life and magic you have to do the stage.  I don't expect them to tell me everything, but you have to fly blind the first time in each challenge to figure out anything.  They are timed, so your first run will likely be bad while figuring out what to do.  Some are really tricky, but fun once you figure out what to do.  I've only completed a few, since they get pretty hard.

If you like "Metroidvania" style action/platform games, you will feel right at home in Black Knight Sword.  I had fun with the game, even with some frustration.  The game is a bit short and linear, but you could get some extra time out of it going for the trophies and challenges.  It's a very quirky and unique game (it is a Suda 51 game, after all) that I recommend if you like jumping around and stabbing things to death.

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