Great minds often think alike.
You've heard the saying before, right? It seems Grasshopper Manufacture and Digital Reality, the studios that brought us Sine Mora, discovered that in each other. I can only assume the two entities find strength and creativity between them as they've come together once more to great effect.
This time, Suda 51 and company deliver Black Knight Sword, a graphic take on the 2D action game, of which there've been many. The beginning of this year saw the release of Shank 2 and countless indie titles have taken to 2D platforms as a safe house in the harsh environment of games development. Of course, when you're dealing with Suda, you immediately expect the experience to be original, but not without some flaws. That was true of Sine Mora, and Black Knight Sword follows closely in the schmup's footsteps (jet trail?).
You are the titular Black Knight, a corpse brought back to life to defeat the White Princess and end her reign of… happiness, I assume. Black Knight Sword doesn't beat you over the head with its plot (which means they must have been listening to reviews of Sine Mora). Instead, the brief narrative throws a few curveballs at the player, but largely allows you to drive the action at your own pace. It might be worth it to listen to the narrator a while, as the gothic tale is actually quite tongue-in-cheek.
The voice over is delivered in suitably strange Suda 51 fashion, so fans of the Killer 7, No More Heroes, and Shadows of the Damned will find more to love in Black Knight Sword. The real meat and bones of the game is the sidescrolling action on hand, but prepare yourself: There is old-school Mega Man level challenge to be had.
You can swing your sword, double jump, and throw your Black Hellebore. That's it. You'll have to find nuance and skill within these stark confines, but it'll be difficult. Even if you exploit these simplified controls and attempt to mash your way through, ready yourself to be punished. The Black Hellebore is your sword's inherent demon spirit and can also be used to solve puzzles on your road to vengeance.
These simple roadblocks never require much brainpower, but be thankful: There's still plenty of challenge in everything else. Even on Normal, I found myself getting frustrated and putting down the controller. I might not have come back if it weren't for the unique visual style and entertaining story. Players might become disoriented at the way the Black Knight sits still and the background moves around him, but after getting used to it, I enjoyed the strange take on 2D navigation.
Black Knight Sword invokes beauty and inventiveness in some areas and brain-melting fury in others. It continues Suda 51's streak of awkwardly endearing titles. Unfortunately, it also retains a few flaws from gestation. If the difficulty were more balanced or if there was more depth to the combat, it'd be easier to recommend.
Luckily, you can try a demo of the game on Xbox Live Arcade. If you're a big fan of Grasshopper Manufacture and Suda 51 (as I am), you can roll the dice and see if Black Knight Sword continues to grow that love. Appropriately priced at $9.99, Black Knight Sword isn't a big threat to your wallet, but it's also not the easiest game to push on your friends. Regardless, this is another capable outing from two great studios that just happen to think alike.