Black Knight Sword is a classic Grasshopper offering, which is to say it's a slick, retro-infested action affair that's not quite as smart as it seems. Co-developed with Digital Reality, whose credits include the equally punishing but rather better Sine Mora, the game casts you as rusty hero armed with a toothpick blade, out to destroy a ravening princess.
It's a reversal of fairytale roles which plays into the game's highly theatrical aesthetic - the action unfolds upon a stage draped in red velvet, and fanciful cardboard backdrops rearrange themselves in a whirlwind of sumptuous textures during level transitions. Meanwhile, a predatory narrator pulls off a reasonable approximation of a Tales of the Crypt voiceover, cackling mournfully as gobs of fire and duck-headed angels pick apart your health bar.
Black Knight Sword is occasionally a wonder to behold. The shop screen, for instance, takes the form of a monstrous, petulant eyeball ringed by gnashing maws, who buffs your health and armour by zapping you with lightning. There's also a fantastic gauntlet sequence in the second chapter which sees the Knight leaping between boats to escape a rising tide of textiles. The air of knowing artifice isn't all visual - the game's soundscape has been cobbled together from bestial squawks, garbled phrases and odd spurts of percussion.
The enemies - including grotesquely sized heads, wolves that leap over your sword and dribbles of malevolent lichen - resemble Terry Gilliam's animated sequences from the Monty Python series, and indeed, there's something of Monty Python's gleeful arbitrariness in the way Black Knight Sword punishes the slightest slip-up with a trip to the nearest checkpoint. Lives are anything but cheap, though in a rare concession to the modern age you won't be bumped back to the start of the game when you squander them all.
Play is built around evading attack, then countering with frenzied sword stabs or a selection of spells, so it's a shame that the all-important dodge move doesn't quite work. You'll need to duck before performing an evasive roll, and you can only roll in one direction. It's the one aspect of Black Knight Sword that seems frustrating by accident, rather than by design, and together with an underwhelming playlength, holds the game just short of a recommendation.
Eldritch retro fare with a few blemishes
- Great aesthetic
- Testing platform challenges
- Crafty sound board
- A little meagre