I'd literally just jotted down the words 'looks like Terry Gilliam on crack' into a notepad stuffed with shorthand blurbs from the first few days of Gamescom when publisher Digital Reality's rep turned around and dead on cue politely asked if I'd mind not making any Monty Python references in my write-up simply because it had been all anyone else had done. The trouble is that there really is a parallel there, some of the walking heads and exaggerated character designs look as if they've been lifted straight out of ...The Holy Grail. But there is more going on here than meets the eye.
Described to me as Suda51's 'baby', Black Knight Sword involves a fantastica tale of light and dark in which players take on the role of the Black Knight, a dark and shadowy character as befits his name. We arrive on the scene to find him hanging from the rafters, a rope around his neck, seemingly dead. The buzzing neon in the background offers up a hint that the player should try swinging him free. He slips his bonds and crumples to the floor, a sword delivered to him by an amorphous dark blob that then wraps itself about the Knight, forming his armour.
It is later revealed that this blob is in fact the Sword Spirit, and that the game revolves around the battle between said Spirit and her White counterpart, a beautiful but dastardly Princess whose evil deeds must be put to an end. We did learn that you have a similar counterpart - a White Knight - and we asked if players will get to play as the White Knight and explore the story from an alternative perspective, to which we were met with a suitably cryptic smile and a noncommittal answer.
What is clear is that the game will feature two main game modes - Story and Challenge - with the former looking to provide an entry point for less hardcore players than hsitory might perhaps have allowed. Fully fledged leaderboards will give seasoned Metroidvania fans the chance to compare their ranks and times, and you can probably expect to see this become a marketplace favourite for speed runs.
This being a Grasshopper game, though, surreality is rampant. Microwaves yield power ups and downed enemies give up hearts - the main currency of the game, which can be spent on new skills and special attacks. A giant spinning wheel with an eye at its core, encircled by rainbow mouths promised us upgrades. In spite of the paper-presentation, slashing the enormous, potato-like heads that wander about on dainty hands to pieces results in fountains of blood. We also got to see a bit of the Black Fairy in action too, a limited Fairy meter allowing for the Knight to send her off to fetch hard to reach items, obliterate enemies with area attacks and help out with a couple of platforming puzzles.
There are a melting pot of influences at work here. The staging is all eastern paper theatre, the enemy design strikingly European, and the gameplay harks back to classic Metroidvania action-platforming. There wasn't anything hugely remarkable to be said about the gameplay during my brief time with game, and when it comes to stylised action-platformers, it has to be said that XBLA, at least, has two utter (completely different) gems in The Dishwasher 2 and Shadow Complex, but there's always room for competition.
However, the aesthetic is intriguing and the sounds are fantastic. Akira Yamaoka has served up an often atonal treat of the creepily weird. Pianos plink here and there underneath shuddering strings and bizarre percussion. None of the instruments sound as if they want to be played, the noises coming out of them reaching out to ears almost begrudgingly to cracking effect. Black Knight Sword is a game I want to start getting excited about, but we really need to see more of it. Shadows of the Damned for all of its strangeness, had an excellently executed simple mechanic at its core, some cracking action and ludicrous bosses. I really hope that we might be able to say the same of Suda and co.'s latest.
Black Knight Sword is coming to XBLA and PSN this winter.