Why you should take notice of Black Knight Sword [Preview]

23 Jan 2012  by   John Robertson
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Collaborations between Eastern Europe and Japan are hardly a regular occurrence. Yet, that’s exactly what we’ve got with Black Knight Sword. Hungarian studio Digital Reality and Japan’s Grasshopper Manufacture (home to the outlandish works of Giochi ‘Suda 51’ Suda) have teamed up in the creation of a hack ‘n’ slasher set for a release later this year on Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network.
Of course, anything concerning Suda 51 comes with an expectation of uniqueness, quirkiness and an unabashed refusal to compromise. Black Knight Sword seems to have no plans to upend such expectations, at least as far the aesthetics are concerned.
Like a meeting between Eastern Europe and Japan, puppetry and 19th-century art styles are uncommon bedfellows in the world of videogames. The hack ‘n’ slash gameplay may not be entirely fresh, but this aesthetic certainly is. Just look at the screenshots… I for one haven’t seen anything that is easily comparable to such art direction.

Framed by the deep red of a theatre curtain, each and every sidescrolling scene looks as though it has been plucked from the sketch book of a morose, depressed artist of Victorian England descent. Moody lighting, muted tones and a desire to subvert your expectations are the order of the day. I came into the Black Knight Sword demo knowing nothing about the game, I left with those images circling my head and with a genuine sense of wanting to experience more just to see more.
Fans of videogame observation are in for a treat.
The art style is brought into even sharper focus, and given an over-worldly sense of motion, thanks to the decision to scroll the world around the player. Rather than moving the knight through the environment, your heavily armoured warrior stays in the centre of the screen as the backdrops glide past.
Such heavenly motion is juxtaposed by the comparatively traditional gameplay. Combat is hack ‘n’ slash in every sense of the term, with simple strikes of your sword ending the lives of the borderline ridiculously designed enemies in explosions of blood and dismemberment.

From what I’ve seen thus far, enemy numbers are small – this can hardly be considered to harbour the same intensity of gameplay as Golden Axe or Castle Crashers – and gameplay is designed around overcoming diverse situations rather than hordes of bodies. The challenge here will be to keep things interesting by constantly delivering enticing scenarios, but what’s for sure is that the lower enemy count allows you plenty of opportunity to ogle the scenery.
Like almost every game of today’s era, Black Knight Sword adds an RPG element in the form of an upgrade system. Vanquished enemies sometimes drop hearts which act as the game’s currency and are traded in to improve your abilities.
Having seen so little of the game it’s impossible to comment on their effectiveness or long-term appeal and, in all honestly, I’m not concerned by those sorts of additions as a general rule. But I’ll reserve judgement until the finished article is in my hands.

All of this is wrapped in a musical score composed by the uniformly brilliant Akira Yamaoka (Silent Hill, Shadows of the Damned and the upcoming Lollipop Chainsaw), so expect the sound design to compliment and enrich the visual element.
No matter how Black Knight Sword turns out (good or bad), there’s little chance that this is going to be the game that finally brings the Grasshopper Manufacture the commercial success their games deserve. The studio’s reluctance to compromise and desire to constantly craft fresh (often challenging) experiences means they’ll likely always stay rooted in the realm of artistic appreciation rather than mass entertainment.
Black Knight Sword, like Shadows of the Damned, Killer7 and No More Heroes, will likely become another sexy little secret of those in the know. Needless to say, I’m eager for a bigger peek at the puppets as they glide across their floating backdrop.

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