Black Knight Sword
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture/ Digital Reality
Genre: Action / Platforming
Release Date: 12/11/12
“Black Knight Sword…” is the confusing phrase Mario of Super Mario Bros. fame uttered after his brother Luigi shook him to consciousness from the grasp of what he imaged was a terrible nightmare. The evening prior saw the brothers swapping controllers as they played through the original Castlevania games on the NES, and while Luigi was content on gorging himself with the typical mushrooms the Koopa stomping heroes have grown up on, ol’ Mario had to play it rockstar and went to town on shrooms of an entirely different variety. Mama freakin’ mia.
On a surface level, the bizarre offspring of the likes of Super Mario Bros. and traditional Castlevania games is a fairly competent way of describing Black Knight Sword. You can actually compare the game strongly to any one of the countless side scrolling platformers that have appeared over the years to accurate effect, so long as you work the “really high on something” adaptive adjective somewhere amidst your comparison. When it comes down to the mechanics, Black Knight Sword is a faithful reflection of the beloved genre so many of us grew into adult gamers on. It’s also really whacked out.
Black Knight Sword marks the second collaborative video game project between Hungarian developer Digital Reality and Grasshopper Manufacture, which is headed by the often celebrated maestro of grindhouse gaming, Suda 51. Much like their prior release, the masterful arcade shooter Sine Mora, Black Knight Sword was designed and orchestrated by Grasshopper, and assembled by Digital Reality. Unlike that game, however, this one is a lot more… absurd.
Out of the gate, Black Knight Sword is easily one of the most stylish and artistically infused video games I’ve played in recent memory, and while quite a few games have succeeded in making “art” a keyword when it comes to describing them, I can’t think of any that are built with such a regard to the idea as the likes of Black Knight Sword. The game is presented as an old time marionette theater of sorts, complete with a velvet curtain and wood etched frame. Dancing upon it in often crude, yet wondrous to behold papercrafts, is the main knight character, the bizarre Monty Python-esque enemies attempting to do him in, and an array of changing scenery and props. The animations are stiff and the details on any given aspect literally look as if they were scrawled by the hand of a traveling circus clown with colored pens, and that’s the entire point.
The surreal presentation is further amplified by the often absurd and eerie music score and effects that usually sound like they’re coming from the same mouths of whatever carnival folk are moving the landscapes and environments around behind the scenes. It’s a mind blowing aesthetic that really needs to be seen in motion to appreciate, and is a true showpiece example of assembling a very specific visual idea down to the detail.
Underneath its daring artistic presentation and the quirky, substance-addled vision we’ve come to appreciate from Suda, however, Black Knight Sword is a fairly straightforward, bare bones action platformer that is entirely functional, yet sadly underwhelming as a whole. Across the game’s six stages you’ll double jump, strike at enemies, and utilize a modest set of special moves that are bestowed upon the knight individually at the end of each stage. Hearts can be collected from defeated enemies and obtained through simple exploring, which can be traded to the game’s merchant character that is infinitely more interesting than any of the items she has to offer.
The main game is a fair length, and reasonably challenging. There are various difficulty modes, including an arcade remix that has a straightforward stage layout and more frequent and tougher enemies, and a challenge mode that will test various jumping and maneuvering skills. All are decent diversions, but none really add on solid replay value.
It feels as though the game is purposefully simplified, even for a traditional platformer, so that the player’s main focus is the artistic presentation. Most would probably tell you that this is a bad thing, and while I do wish there was more to do with Black Knight Sword, I can say that such a strong presentation really should be at the forefront here. The need to perform more particular moves or other complicated gameplay additions might detract from taking this experience in one hundred percent visually, and that would be a real loss.
Short Attention Span Summary:
At a fair ten dollar asking price, I have no issues in recommending Black Knight Sword to someone who likes platform games, and those who are fans of Suda 51′s craziness will find a lot to appreciate here. If you’re in the mood for something that you’ve played a few times before, but never seen anything quite like, Black Knight Sword is money.