Here’s what you can expect from Suda51’s newest game, Black Knight Sword: insane amounts of blood gushing from every foe. Cat heads growing from flower pots. Winged-eyeballs trapped in birdcages. Brawls with motorcycle hogs (quite literally) in front of a bar on Route 66. Oh, and an awkward butt-humping monster. Top it off with difficulty so steep in areas that if you have friends on XBox LIVE Party chat while you play, they may hang around an extra few minutes just to hear the new swear words you invent out of sheer frustration (because that’s what happened to me). The environment is unpredictable and a blast to explore, but the equally-unpredictable difficulty and cheapness of the game may leave you feeling a little screwed yourself.
Suda51 isn’t known for keeping to convention. Whether it’s the schizophrenic assassin-based Killer7, assassin leaderboard-based No More Heroes, or even the mystery-puzzler Flower Sun Rain, Grasshopper Manufacture games always offer a stark departure from the norm, even the bounds of reality itself. Black Knight Sword plays out the quest of the Black Knight on a children’s puppet stage as he quests to defeat the evil White Princess with his, well, sword. Each stage cleared gifts the Black Knight with a new skill, and the stages themselves are beautiful, each one showcasing its own style and flavor with strong colors, quirky music, and a narrative at the beginning which doesn’t make much sense, but sets the tone for the approaching enemies.
Locating the aforementioned winged-eyeballs gives you access to the store where you can purchase extra lives, more punching power for the demon-companion Black Helleborne, or an extended health bar. The charged slash is invaluable; a quick 2-second charge unleashes a wide sword slash that damages equivalent to 4 or 5 stabs, but the rest of the power-ups feel fairly useless, or can even put you unexpectedly in harm’s way (pressing up before releasing the charge slash turns the attack into a upward bicycle kick almost guaranteed to make you take damage). You’ll need all the help you can get to fight through the game’s onslaught of enemies, but even all the help in the world won’t save you from some of the this game’s key frustrations.
You’ll ride a giant chicken through side-scrolling bullet hell segments. You’ll have cutlery hurled at you by kitchen-haunting poltergeists. And yes, in many places it’s just fun to see all the zaniness. But have you seen the word “frustrating” in this review a couple times already? That’s because far too often the game feels designed specifically not to test your nerves or reflexes, but instead to make you fail. The bullet-hell segments are more about damage-management than survival. One particular piece of hurled cutlery will kill you in one hit regardless of any armor or health you have. And running out of lives requires you to restart an entire stage, a journey which can take 20-30 minutes to complete each time. There’s also no auto-saving, so if you play for a few hours and simply forget to hit that save button (maybe because you’re too busy being pissed-off about the number of times you’ve died), say goodbye to your progress.
If this just sounds “hardcore” to you, BKN may be up your alley But the kinds of deaths you’ll run into while playingBlack Knight Sword aren’t often the ones that make you feel like you need to increase your skill, they’re the kind that make you feel robbed and cheated. I, for one, don’t like being robbed or cheated.
Perhaps if the difficulty were consistently high, like in Mega Man 9 or 10 it would be more forgivable. Perhaps if the game oozed style from every pore like Viewtiful Joe I could get over the missteps. But Black Knight Sword doesn’t do either of these things far enough to make it truly effective, and that’s a real shame.
There’s tons of debate as of late about whether or not games are becoming too easy, and I’m of the camp that they are (Pokémon Black Ver. 2 gives you so many handouts the currently-fictional Republican Gaming Party calls it Pokébamacare). But with that said, this game isn’t the definitive answer. It’s fun, it’s charming in many ways and it tries to fight the easiness trend, all of which are laudable efforts. But the unreasonable design and cheap kills push Black Knight Sword into the kind of absurdity even Suda51 shouldn’t venture into.