Some things are to be taken as metaphor. For instance when Shakespeare penned that all the world was a stage I doubt he suffered from schizophrenia and saw curtains draped around every scene; of course the madhouse that is Suda 51 would tell you much differently. As a studio known for its bizarre style, Suda 51’s Grasshopper set out to produce another quirky addition to its repertoire. Enter from stage left Black Knight Sword: a twisted fairy tale about two sisters at war. On one side we have the evil White Princess whose insanity has led to all sorts of macabre creations with all amalgamations of body parts, and on the other the Black Hellebore, a sword spirit bent on ending her sisters evil rein. The change from rescuing princesses to killing them is a welcome one and offers an interesting premise but much like the rest of the game it is simply a veneer to draw attention from what would otherwise be glaring problems.
Zooey Deschanel Effect
Like a lot of games, Black Knight Sword starts with your hero just hanging around. However, unlike a lot of games, your hero is hanging by his neck. As you swing your corpse free and get zapped into the black knights trademark armor by a disembodied head, you know that this game is going to be anything but normal. From there things just escalate. Soon, you are taking stage directions from an eerie narrator who will serve as your guide throughout the game; fighting heads with tiny limbs, bloated two headed madmen, and rescuing floating eyeballs from cages with human legs so that you can buy things from their mother. This craziness continues until it gets exhausting, after cutting doors through toast and fighting a giant spider equipped with a gas mask and a human face for an abdomen the novelty quickly begins to fade. As this oddball sheen wears, the true nature of the game shows it’s ugly head.
The game seems to clearly be suffering from something I like to call the Zooey Deschanel Effect™. The effect can be explained by the following: People like to love things that are quirky and unique (unless it’s me in high school.) They find it endearing and special. So inevitably people who are normal will try to emulate that degree of quirkiness to detract from their plain and uninteresting features. Suda 51 has been cashing in on their creativity for a while and doing it admirably; games like Shadow of the Damned, No More Heros and Killer 7 all had a genuine feel to them but it is clear as the studio runs out of ideas they are letting the effect take hold. Don’t get me wrong, just like Zooey Deschanel the graphics are beautiful to look at but at the same time are absent of any real subsistence .
They are trying too hard to fit the bill as quirky while failing to be unique where it counts. The enemies are a great example of this: while at first they appear bizarre, it becomes old news as you see the same enemies over and over again. Sure they have slightly different textures on them but when you have a level and the chief difference between the enemies from last level is that they are all wearing sombreros, there is a problem. This combined with the lazy design of making you fight each end boss twice shows the growing lack of innovation.
Beyond the curtain the game really begins to break down. At the core, Black Knights Sword is a very simple platformer; you run, jump and slash your way through the levels with very little timing or skill required. The huge contrast between the visuals and the game play shows where most of the development time was spent, largely to the detriment of the game. A major problem is the lack of a block button, which is substituted by a dodge feature. Normally this wouldn’t be too bad but in order to dodge, you have to crouch and hit X, making it much faster to just move in the opposite direction of the attack. Also, there is never any enemy you will fight that should not be countered with spamming the slash button.
Unlike some games that have you unlock abilities that need to be used and mastered to continue, here they just serve as window dressing. The charge attack takes way too long and does half the damage as a few spam attacks will with the added bonus to mobility. The jump attack has a terrible hitbox and will kill you more often than not. Magic is powerful but completely out of your control when you hit the button. And last of all, the thrust attack moronically eats hearts that you need to spend to continue.
Speak of continuing, check out the rest of the review on the next page….