Game: Black Knight Sword
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture and Digital Reality
Platform: Xbox 360
Achievements: 3/12, 40/400 points
A thick black curtain greets you when you load up Black Knight Sword. The shadows from the theater’s audience cast strange shapes just as their murmurs fill the room with excited flourishes. As the game loads, smoke from a cigarette (or maybe a stick of incense?) billows softly in the corner. What lies behind the curtain? What kind of show has the audience gathered to see? What kind of game are you about to enter?
The distinct style of Black Knight Sword is undeniable. From the very first scene you’re struck by the dark nourish atmosphere, the flat 2D Monty Python landscapes and enemies, the touch of Grimm Brothers fairy tale, and the eerily haunting orchestration. It’s a wonder to walk through this carefully crafted world.
It’s a shame that the game play in this beautiful world is empty and boring.
Black Knight Sword is a side-scrolling beat ‘em up co-developed by Grasshopper Manufacture, of No More Heroes and Lollipop Chainsaw fame, and Digital Reality, most recently of Bang Bang Racing. Like most side-scrolling beat ‘em ups, your character runs across the screen, sometimes up and down the screen, beating up the enemies that are running in the opposite direction. A lot of the fun from these games can be garnered from the variety of enemies that your protagonist encounters. In Black Knight Sword, you face…faces. You kill lots and lots of disembodied faces with feet (fast and slow) and/or wings (fast and slow). There are other enemy types and boss fights, but the majority of your time with Black Knight Sword will be spent hacking and slashing faces that are reminiscent of the peasants from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
It gets old very, very fast.
You’ll be rewarded in vaguely anatomically correct hearts for each face smashed. You’ll be able to spend your hearts by visiting a shop run by a gigantic eyeball embedded in an equally gigantic wheel but only after freeing a flying eyeball trapped in a cage that’s patterned after the famous leg table in The Christmas Story. Because…why not? You can upgrade your titular Black Knight by increasing his armor, health, and buying magic abilities. I wanted to like this game and with each new addition, I thought, “Surely this will make the game fun.”
Each time, I was wrong.
Along with the eye-catching style (see what I did there?), soul less game play, comes an inscrutable storyline. There’s something about sisters? Maybe a princess? I’m just not sure and the game play never made me want to find out. I was bored.
For comparison, let’s look at another recent beat ‘em up that’s soaked in style. That’s right, I’m talking about Double Dragon: Neon. These two games are on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to style chooses and storylines. Double Dragon: Neon drips with pinks and purples while Black Knight Sword drips with shades of grey. Double Dragon: Neon’s story is laid out in the first 5 seconds of the game. Black Knight Sword’s story is told in cryptic Grimm Brother-esque interludes. The biggest difference though is that Double Dragon: Neon is fun. It has a variety of attacks, enemies, and levels that rewards the player for putting up with old school arcade sensibilities of difficulty.
One final note – as I quit out of this game, I noticed ilomilo sitting in my library. While it is a cooperative puzzle game, there are a lot of parallels to Black Knight Sword. Ilomilo also has an art style that cannot be ignored. The designers have imbued what look like two sacks of flour with personality, warmth, and heart. The levels are dream worlds with odd characters and bizarre angles. Similar to Black Knight Sword, the story is inexplicable, but the designers kept me intrigued through clever level design and game play. This is how the marriage of game play and style should be.
To answer the question, what kind of game are you about to enter? You’re entering a boring one. Sadly, for all style dripping from Black Knight Sword, I can’t recommend it. Rather, if you’re looking for games with style and substance, check out Double Dragon: Neon and ilomilo.