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CONSOLE: PlayStation 3
DEVELOPER: Grasshopper Manufacture
Digital Reality
PUBLISHER: D3 Publisher
RELEASE DATE (NA): December 11, 2012 GENRE: Platformer
// review by Jeff

Mother Goose's Scary Tales.

Even if you know anything about Suda51, you should know one important detail: anything he has a hand in, it's going to be different, and it's probably going to be weird. And Black Knight Sword, which boasts Suda51 as a writer, is bizarre. Modeled after a puppet play made out of paper and other similar materials, backdrops fold in and out as the scene dictates. Stars, moons (yes, there's more than one, supposedly), and other trinkets out of a school show dangle from the ceiling. The storyline, which doesn't really connect directly from one act to the next, has an overarching theme of the titular knight seeking to defeat its nemesis, the White Princess, as they have been trapped within a world of fantasy so they can argue until the end of time. Each act is presented as its own separate fairy tale, complete with a charming yet spectral British narrator and a villainous animal boss to defeat, but the primary tale comes full circle at the end.

When the game throws these macabre paper visuals at you, the gameplay tends to fade within your consciousness temporarily. Case in point: in Stage 4, there are walls that you have to cut through to continue onward. I wouldn't have normally batted an eye here, except the walls were absolutely arbitrary giant slices of toast. There's no rhyme or reason for this occurrence, and they never appear again. And the Black Knight slices out toast-shaped doorways. I think I am in love.

Yes, Black Knight Sword is just downright bizarre down to a tee. Blood flows like wine at a cocktail party — literally, any enemy you slice into will spurt a hefty gallon of plasma all over the ground. Treasure chests can be hacked open, but they're not in the form of classic chests at all: they're old microwaves with dials on them. Defeating enemies drops big, juicy, realistic hearts, but not the kind that will restore your health (that's taken care of by skulls closely resembling those of Crystal Head Vodka containers, which were, believe it or not, conceived in part by Ghostbusters actor Dan Aykroyd), but instead act as currency. Shops are found periodically when you encounter a cage with a one-eyed fluttery creature inside; free the beast and shop via a giant meaty wheel with an eye in the middle. I can't believe I'm saying these things.


Sometimes the darkness consumes you... sometimes you're on a chicken.

The bosses are equally unusual. You'll fend off a pair of half-porcine, half-motorcycle mutants. You fight a giant arachnid creature that spews out ghastly purple poison pufflets; defeating his first form reveals that, oh yes, he has a gigantic statuesque human head that coughs out smaller airborne Moai wannabes. Heck, there's a one-on-one battle against a large chicken, whom you knock out and then hop aboard to ride through a horizontal shooter-style area to then tackle a giant Daruma-style egg creature that turns a forest into an area for a semi-bullet hell sequence. Wh-what am I even PLAYING?!

Unfortunately, its stylistic choices are what the game ultimately banks on. The game itself won't reinvent the genre, nor will it make platforming any more appealing to non-believers. You're a knight in black armor, one Mr. Grahame Wormwood (formerly a suicide victim, now a virile chevalier), with a sword in your hand and a skip in your step. You can run, jump (or double-jump), and swipe to your heart's content. It's Platforming 101, down to the letter, filled with a blend of platform hopping and enemy slashing. And even then, the "platforming" element isn't always followed — heck, there's a very long stretch in the fourth stage that is simply flat. You can just walk to the other side! This is anti-design. Very little in Black Knight Sword is clever design. Perhaps the only novel inclusion is the Black Hellebore, a ghastly spirit that lives inside of your armor and, by charging up, can be shot out to attack enemies from afar (and occasionally flip switches, as need be). Beyond this, expect a by-the-numbers jaunt in the genre.

The only major issue remaining is the difficulty, which has an unfortunately wide range. Playing in Easy Mode is a walk in the park, but you cannot complete the game in its entirety that way; the game will force you to then take on an Easy+ Mode, which is significantly more difficult, but still doable. Once you hit Normal Mode and beyond, unless you're Merlin the Magician, the magic may not happen, especially for casual players. If you actually want to see an ending, take the Easy route.

Sadly, Black Knight Sword is indeed a clear cut case of style over substance, where the game's eerie and quite creative presentation takes the front seat over the actual game, which is hardly anything new, refreshing, or novel. That's not to say the game is terrible — at least, not until you reach higher difficulty levels where it gets to become just that. It is a decent platformer, just not one that will be remembered for anything other than its visual design... and quite possibly the ending song, which features interludes of a Fatman Scoop-esque rapper shouting "Shake your booty now!" and Durty-durty-durty!" Worth hearing once.


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