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Review: Black Knight Sword is one of the prettiest games of the year but sadly nothing more

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After achieving plenty of success with the stellar Sine Mora, it only makes sense that Digital Reality and Grasshopper Manufacture would team up again. This time around, the result of this pairing is Black Knight Sword, a 2D action-platformer that features some of the best art design of the year. Unfortunately, the same level of enthusiasm can’t be used to describe the game’s mechanics which play it a bit too safe far too often. What you get is a downloadable title that’s noticeably as ambitious as Sine Mora but hardly as successful.

As far as its presentation goes, Black Knight Sword is absolutely spectacular. The game opens much like a classic fairytale, with the narrator setting up the plot and characters and offering some generally pleasant voice work. The dude does a great job at telling the tale, and when he’s not delivering dark, unsettling lines, you could easily mistake this for a children’s story. Before each of the game’s five chapters he’ll briefly recount the disturbing events that led the game’s bosses to being as dastardly as they are, and it’s actually quite interesting seeing how a seemingly normal and happy chicken, for example, turned out to be a rotten bird.

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It’s impossible to discuss the presentation of Black Knight Sword without talking in-depth about the game’s graphical look. This is easily one of the best looking games of 2012 thanks in large part to its impressive and unique art style. The whole thing has a wonderful papercraft look that just stands out. Everything looks handmade, and I found myself so intrigued by the game’s art that I constantly stopped what I was doing in-game just to observe the spectacle of enemy paper cutouts and hand-drawn tree textures. Black Knight Sword is an absolute visual beauty of a game, and thanks to the musical talent of Akira Yamaoka, some fitting tunes have also been provided to fully create the wondrous vibe of this title.

Sadly, my enjoyment of Black Knight Sword ends there. This is not a good game by any stretch, and it’s a shame that the developers weren’t able to capture the same type of magic that poured out of Sine Mora ever so effortlessly. Black Knight Sword features hack-and-slash combat and plenty of platforming, none of which is ever all that interesting. The mechanics certainly work well, and there are no issues with the controls — the game simply isn’t all that entertaining, and it deeply saddens me that that’s the case. While I can certainly see how platforming through these great-looking stages would be okay for some people, the game never tries to be anything more than a middling experience.

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Black Knight Sword provides a high level of challenge which would normally command an extreme sense of satisfaction. That’s not the case here. Every time I defeated a tough boss or got through a challenging section, I found myself relieved that I no longer had to deal with the boring gameplay in that particular sequence. This was the case almost immediately, and by the end of this five-hour experience, I didn’t want anything to do with Black Knight Sword. As lovely, peculiar, and bizarre as its world was, I simply couldn’t fathom returning, and I can’t imagine that anyone with a love for great games would want to do so, either.

Even things the game does interestingly can be obnoxious. Defeated enemies drop hearts that you can collect and use as currency. While at a shop you can purchase armor, health upgrades, and magic upgrades. These definitely help, but they never make a huge difference like they should. Then there are sequences that are quite admirable such as a shoot 'em up stage which tasks you with riding around on the boss chicken you defeated moments prior. That's an awesome idea, no doubt, but the action can be tedious and annoyingly unforgiving.

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One aspect that will definitely annoy a few players is the save system in Black Knight Sword. This is because the game never autosaves when you reach a checkpoint. Instead, you need to pause the game and manually save after reaching checkpoints if you don’t want to lose all of your progress. This isn’t a big deal if you lose a life or two because you’ll still return to the last checkpoint regardless of whether or not you saved. If you get a game over, however, you’ll have to start the stage over which can definitely be a pain. By saving at checkpoints you also save the trouble of having to start over, and you can simply quit after getting the game over screen and load up your save.

I wanted to like Black Knight Sword. It’s strange, morbid, creepy, and funny. Thematically and tonally, it’s everything you could possibly want from a game with the Grasshopper name on it. Unlike Sine Mora which was a much more thought-provoking and awe-inspiring game, though, Black Knight Sword feels like a product that goes out of its way to give you a near perfect art design while simply going through the motions as far as its gameplay is concerned. If you want to play something that looks remarkably amazing, check out Black Knight Sword. Just know that you’re never going to get a worthwhile gameplay experience.

[Reviewed on PlayStation 3]

Want to talk about indie games, Kirby, or cheap pizza? Follow me on Twitter @dr_davidsanchez.

Above Average

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