Player feedback means a lot of different things to a lot of different developers. To BioWare, a vocal minority calling bullshit on an (admittedly weak) ending was enough to call all hands back to the deck as the unfavourable finale was retroactively patched. Unfavourably. To FPS developers, a single forum post about X gun being overpowered can be enough to see it crippled by a knee-jerk-nerf, only to have its former glory restored when the dust settles. But at Grasshopper, things apparently work a little differently. “Dear Grasshopper,” reads the letter we wrote to the studio, only we didn’t actually because y’know, writing. “Shadows Of The Damned was amazing, but you were taking the piss with that drawn-out side-scrolling nonsense, right? Have a word, yeah?”
“Not at all,” comes the reply (or at least it would, if either letter or response could sit comfortably in the non-fiction aisle). “We liked it. We found it pretty funny. But you know what would be even funnier? IF WE MADE A WHOLE GAME LIKE THAT.”
But sadly, it’s not a punchline that ever fully delivers on the promise of the joke. We ‘enjoyed’ those parts of Shadows in context, mostly given that the game is set in Hell – why wouldn’t that backdrop allow devs to torment players with sections that outstay their welcome in a situational capacity? But Black Knight Sword doesn’t offer that context – in fact, it offers none. You awake, miraculously free of a noose, only to become the titular warrior seconds later and from that point on, nothing that happens makes any more sense. One level sees you riding a giant chicken as the game becomes a bullet hell shooter on a whim. Thematically, the only explanation we could formulate was that all the chicken jokes from every Fable game had suddenly become sentient and unionised, only to discover that they still weren’t funny. And that’s pretty much the level.
Mechanically, Grasshopper’s latest fancies itself as a tidy old-school Castlevania cosplayer – a hardcore platformer that eschews fair play in favour of brutal difficulty. And in terms of challenge, it’s got the costume down. But it seldom feels fair, nor does dying over and over reward or lead to better play – this is just an unfair world in which unfair things happen. Unfair things dressed up in Terry Gilliam silliness, sure, but unfair things nonetheless.
And as entertaining as Black Knight Sword’s unique style may make it, it struggles to escape the ‘art for art’s sake’ rod it makes for its own back without ever excusing itself properly. Aesthetics can only carry it so far – it’s a decent little game but one devoid of the context or meaning that would elevate it to anything higher.
“Dear Grasshopper,” our new letter reads. “You were wrong. This joke was never that funny in the first place.”