Black Knight Sword review for PSN, XBLA

Platform: PlayStation Network
Also On: XBLA
Publisher: D3Publisher/Digital Reality
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: Leaderboards

I tend to enjoy just about everything that developer Grasshopper Manufacture lends their name to, but I?ll admit that I found Black Knight Sword fell a little flat for me. I love to check out throwback games, and BKS certainly does evoke a 16-bit action platformer throughout its five stages, but the required weirdness that you?d typically see in a Grasshopper game actually goes to such an extreme here that it becomes largely forgettable and tiring as opposed to anything interesting and new. And the core gameplay, largely focused on swatting down relatively weak and mindless enemies with sword swipe after sword swipe, gets to be monotonous way too early, despite BKS being a relatively short experience.

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In Black Knight Sword, you?ll take control of the titular Black Knight, given access to a sword that doubles as some sort of spirit called the Black Hellebore. Besides acting as your primary weapon, you can use Black Hellebore as a limited projectile, and the Hellebore also grants you the ability to double jump. BKS features a lot of platforming elements, tricky jumps, bottomless pits, and other hazards, and for the most part the controls work well enough to keep the experience from being frustrating. There?s just the right amount of weight given to jumps to keep them feeling like precise movements, and if I ever got mad at the game, it had little to do with the character physics or platforming side of things.

But the level design doesn?t really do enough to complement the controls. There are a lot of sections throughout the five stages that require little more effort than just pushing forward and either hacking at foes that require little skill to defeat, or jumping from one nearby platform to another. BKS can be difficult at times, mostly due to not giving you much more than a backwards roll as a form of evading enemy projectiles, but that challenge is typically only present during the boss fights and mid-boss fights you?ll encounter. The rest of the stages are honestly sort of boring, and despite being wacky and weird, fail to be memorable. There?s one sequence in the third stage does stand out, where the mechanics of the game completely change gears, but that sequence is more of outlier than anything else.

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One aspect that BKS does get right is its presentation. The story side of BKS is largely unimportant, it?s more of a mash up of pseudo-children stories with a very dark twist, which in turn relate to the design of the stage and end level boss you fight. But the whole thing is presented in a puppet theater fashion that really gets nailed down with a theater motif that surrounds 3/4ths of the screens edges, encapsulating the action in a stage-like view. And the way everything animates, from the Black Knight, to the enemies, and the stage backgrounds, feels very much like a papier-m?ch? fever dream brought to life. It?s a pretty well realized effect, and ends up being the sole, standout feature of the entire experience. A game with better, unique mechanics in this setting would have been great, but unfortunately Black Knight Sword?s tepid hack and slash platforming brings down an otherwise decent downloadable title on PSN and XBLA.

Grade: C+