Suda 51, and to a larger extent, Grasshopper Manufacture, are responsible for some of the most crazy, what-the-hell-did-I-just-play games in this console generation. No More Heroes and Shadows of the Damned prove that Grasshopper is capable of marrying its grindhouse/punk-rock aesthetic and Japanese eccentricity with solid game design, creating nonsensical – but nevertheless, entertaining – video games. Black Knight Sword is Grasshopper Manufacture’s latest – a collaboration with Hungarian developer Digital Reality. Together they’ve created a throwback to the sidescrolling games of yesteryear. It sounds awesome in theory, but it relies so heavily on its weird premise to carry the game forward that it seems to have left the actual gameplay behind.
Black Knight Sword is essentially a sidescrolling game in the vein of 8 and 16-bit classics like Castlevania or Stryder. Moving always to the right, the Black Knight will take on scores of the most bizarre demons and monsters – broad-faced heads on wings and on legs, horses on springs, wolves, obese knights, and more – each one dropping hearts when defeated. Picking up these hearts allows the Knight to upgrade his life bar, refill his health, increase his magic power, or buy armor.
Any upgrades made to the Knight’s abilities only last as long as the player can stay alive; after losing all of his lives, the Knight’s health and magic upgrades are removed – as well as any accumulated hearts – while level progress is saved. This means that the player may make it to the fifth and final level, but if they’ve lost all their lives at any point, they will have to tackle the cliché old-school “boss rush” – fighting every single boss from the previous four levels in a row – with no upgrades. The only way to beat the game is to essentially perform a perfect run through the game, making its brevity a relief rather than a detraction.
Not even the bizzaro brain of Suda 51 can save static gameplay and cheap deaths. It’s a shame, because the premise and art direction are rather inspired, but it’s hard to keep pressing forward when actually playing the game is not. Fans of Suda 51’s work may be able to look past the numerous flaws present here, but ten dollars is a lot of money to spend on frustration and the desire to play something, anything else.