XBLA review: Black Knight Sword

From the mind of Suda51 comes another quirky release, this one a throwback to old-school platforming adventure games. Black Knight Sword follows the titular character and the spirit of his blade known as Black Hellebore as they venture through five different stages, confronting the forces of the White Princess. The presentation is that of a play, with the narrator reading poetic lines to preface each stage and the character models and enemies appearing as paper puppets - to be frank, the artistic direction is not so unlike the animated sequences of the Monty Python films.

Each stage that the Black Knight journeys through proves wackier than the last, with the first two stages apparently inspired largely by medieval and Greek fantasy. Later stages include motorcycle gangs and a missile launch site in the American west, and one part of the game even switches to a side-scrolling shooter akin to Gradius, except that the Black Knight is mounted on the back of a giant chicken. With regards to the core gameplay, the Black Knight's attacks are rather limited at the start of the adventure, though he can spend hearts he collects from fallen foes to earn a larger health meter, imbue Black Hellebore with greater power, or buy an extra life. At the end of each stage, the Black Knight will learn a new attack, though some of these prove far more useful than others, given the nature of enemies on any given stage. Also, the order in which the Black Knight receives these seems somewhat backwards.

The degree of challenge the game dishes out is significant - it isn't downright impossible, but it does follow a tradition long-since abandoned by contemporary platformers. While you are able to start the game on any difficulty setting the moment you begin playing, the game encourages multiple playthroughs, with the easiest means of acquiring better health and offensive measures coming from a playthrough of easy difficulty, then normal, and finally hard. Another archaic element is the lack of an autosave feature - players must pause the game and manually save, though they will pick up the game from whatever most recent checkpoint they have reached on a given stage.

Different enemies require different tactics, and there are a couple of recurring miniboss encounters. While these are moderately challenging, the end-level boss fights are truly the highlights of all the combat scenarios, as they allow the Black Knight to make the most use of both his traditional attacks and magic via Black Hellebore. Cat's Head Grass acts as a collectible, with a few hidden in each stage. Beyond the main game is a challenge mode and arcade mode, upping the replay value a notch or two. Black Knight Sword is clearly aimed at fans of rigorous old-school platformers, and as long as those gamers don't mind the moderately bizarre presentation, they should find the few hours spent with the Black Knight and Black Hellebore quite enjoyable.

My rating 8 (out of 10)

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