Title: Black Knight Sword

Publisher: Reverb Communications

Developers: Grasshopper Manufacture and Digital Reality

Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3

Release Date: Out Now

Black Knight Sword opens in a typically Suda 51 fashion, with the main character’s recently deceased corpse hanging from the ceiling of a scuzzy motel room. Inexplicably reanimating, this unnamed protagonist quickly discovers the Black Hellebore, a cross between a magical sword and a demonic entity, which transforms him into the Black Knight and sets him on a quest to defeat the evil White Princess.

The plot for Black Knight Sword was based on one of five alternate scenarios written by Suda 51 for Grasshopper Manufacture’s 2011 title, Shadows of the Damned, and this shows in the game’s visual presentation. Black Knight Sword closely resembles the 2D sections of Shadows of the Damned, taking place on the stage of a paper theatre in front of an ethereal audience. The characters hang like marionettes while the shifting backdrops give the illusion of movement. The game’s world is a series of dingy locations populated by grotesque creatures reminiscent of the Terry Gilliam animated segments of Monty Python.

Black Knight Sword’s music and sound design perfectly compliment the dark fantasy vibe of its visuals, though such is to be expected when the composer is Akira Yamaoka, one of the finest practitioners of his craft working in the games industry today.

In terms of gameplay, Black Knight Sword draws a lot on old school action platformers like Castlevania, Prince of Persia and Ghosts ‘n Goblins. You progress through the game’s world slaying legions of monsters and gigantic bosses while a spooky narrator unravels your exploits. Defeating enemies gains you the in-game currency of hearts which can then be exchanged for various health, armour and attack upgrades. The controls are simple and intuitive, consisting of running, jumping and melee and range attacks. New abilities are acquired by triumphing over the game’s bosses and are explained as you progress.

The strange paradox of Black Knight Sword however is that one of its strengths is also its main weakness: the difficulty level. Given the esteemed heritage of late ‘80s and early ‘90s action platformers which have so clearly inspired Black Knight Sword, it could never have been expected that this would be a walk in the park. However, the problem with Black Knight Sword is that it doesn’t successfully manage the line between entertainingly challenging and brutally unforgiving. The prime example of this is when you lose all of your lives; if you choose to restart after death the game will remove all accumulated points, power ups and hearts. The only way to prevent this is to exit to the main menu and reload a previous save file.

While Black Knight Sword is an enjoyable and well-presented game, its unforgiving nature may dissuade some gamers from picking up this XBLA and PSN release.

By Steven Balbirnie