Today GameCritics is happy to present this video covering Bleak Sword DX from guest contributor Arlyeon. For more from Arlyeon, you can check out their YouTube channel or their Discord.

Hey Folks! It’s time to strap in for some swift suffering, since today I’m going to be talking about More8bit’s brutal hack & slash, Bleak Sword DX. In essence, this expands upon the initial apple arcade release, providing a remixed and extended campaign to cleave through. That said, was I quick to pick up this bit of swordplay, or did it wind up being a deluxe disappointment?  I’m your host Arlyeon, Let’s find out together. 

In just one night, the Kingdom fell – the royal family fell by one of their own. And yet, this was not a brutal act of ambitious politics. Rather, it was caused by the corrupting influence of a dark relic known as the Bleak sword which poisoned, and ultimately possessed it’s wielder. And that was just the start.

Granted unnatural longevity by the blade itself, the Bleak King was granted centuries to enact his reign, plunging the countryside into chaos, as dark magic spread freely, and countless horrific creatures emerged from their slumber. 

A seemingly endless nightmare – were it not for the curious dream a lone wanderer receives. 3 Magic stones, scattered across the countryside- which when united, might be able to overcome the fell magics of the Bleak Sword.

As for the execution, the game’s intro does most of the heavy lifting, as it introduces both the backstory and premise. Yes, there are some brief scenes to accompany every boss fight, as well as to showcase your journey forward- but the real meat of the narrative comes in this moment, and the finale, by all accounts.

Almost. See, once you clear the central story, there are a trio of epilogue areas- which actually receive a bit more exposition than their peers, insofar as explaining the context for your journey. Even still, it’s overall a fairly straightforward affair- which leans more towards providing cinematic moments, and establishing a mood, than trying to engross players in a complicated narrative.

And this focus on simplicity is equally reflected in how this Hack & Slash plays. The controls are simple enough – being a basic combo, a charge attack, a parry, and a dodge roll. Yes, there is a stamina meter to manage, which imposes some slight degree of tactical consideration- but, even that isn’t too bad, given it’s wholly divorced from your dodges, as well as your ability to parry and counter. Admittedly, getting the timing on counters -can- be a bit tricky at first, but short of the stupid spiders, just about every other enemy in the game is well telegraphed on this front. And if they can’t be countered, their animations still let you know when to dodge.

What’s more, Bleak sword’s approach to stage design really helps to make the experience feel snapping. See, each level is essentially an arena, which tasks you with clearing out the enemies which crop up (ideally in a timely fashion, given certain stages seek to overwhelm you).

That said, even with this basic premise, I remained solidly engaged. Part of this is simply due to the diversity of each of the game’s biomes. In total, there’s 12- with 11 of them having 12 stages, and 1 with 6.

Each of these regions have their own pools of enemies, and suitably dramatic boss encounters- providing you some suitably solid enemy types to learn the nuances of- as well as environmental hazards to adapt to. (And even without those, there’s still a fair amount of attention provided to the stages themselves, as pillars, trees, or even narrow hallways all serve to change how you’ll adapt to incoming enemies.)

But the element which helped to hook me the most, was the overall snappy pacing of Bleak Sword as a whole. Each of those stages are relatively quick to clear on their own- provided you maintain a good pace, making this a -very- good game for people who want something to pick up and play briefly- but also providing enough variety to motivate a player to barrel through it’s content over the course of an afternoon or two.

Still, as brutal as the game can be- there are some elements to facilitate your journey. Namely, items and leveling. Items are straightforward enough- when you clear a stage, you’ll occasionally receive an item, such as a consumable health item, or an accessory that boosts your attack and/or defense. There’s also scrolls that permanently boost a stat- though these are incredibly rare.

Only, well- you only have two item slots, which means optimizing your loadout is a logistics decision- especially with early accessories that might provide more attack, but drop your defense.

Leveling, likewise, is another straightforward element. Gain enough exp, and you’re given a choice to increase either your attack or defense, alternating every level. I mean, you can boost your health- but, well, attack helps a -lot- with keeping combat quick and snappy.

Admittedly, these systems aren’t safe from the game’s overarching difficulty, either. See, when you clear a stage, you don’t actually heal back all your health, only a portion of it. Which is made important, since you bleed out -all- the experience you’ve earned towards your next level -and- drop all your items when you die. While you -do- regain it all, if you clear the stage that killed you- you only get 1 shot to do so. Which is a bit rough, given- clearing that stage when you’ve -lost- all the boosts from your equipment can be rough. There were more than a few instances where I got wrecked, and proceeded to double back to earlier areas to farm up a brand new loadout.

In any case, as much as this provided a -lot- of content for me to pour over (and master, given I collected the majority of the achievements related to clearing bosses without being hit) – that isn’t the full extent of the game. Once you’ve cleared it, you unlock a brutally hard extra difficulty -and- an additional 2 game modes. Namely, a boss rush, that pits you against every boss in the game, back to back- without items or leveling boosts -and- an arena.

The arena, on the other hand, starts out a lot more forgiving, but even its difficulty scales up considerably, as it won’t be long until you’re facing off against foes from the final biomes, all while your gear and level remains the same. It’s, uh, a time- but it definitely provides more content for those seeking a challenge.

But, that’s the gameplay- so let’s move onto the graphics- and, on the whole, I appreciated this quite a bit. Visually speaking, there’s a low-fi quality to the entire thing, but, it still manages to provide decently detailed stages to navigate, which manage to lean into the dark ambience the game is trying to evoke. I was, in fact, surprised at how dramatic the boss intros could be, despite the more simplistic visual presentation.

Also, the fact that each stage is stylized like a Diorama was definitely a unique element- as was the manner in which certain elements of the stage provided an obstacle both as a physical impediment, as well as a potentially obscuring element that might allow an enemy to surreptitiously advance. It -really- coaxed me into playing more cautiously, and making use of the terrain to my advantage.

I also appreciated the weather effects, because it was interesting to navigate the haze of a snowstorm, or a sudden flash of lightning obscuring the battlefield. The latter element -does- represent a hazard to epileptics- but, there is a handy accessibility option that allows you to tune down Lightning Strength. 

That said, what really brings the thunder here is the soundtrack. If you’ve played Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery, or Below, the music might sound familiar to you, since the OST was done by Jim Guthries. And it is just -delightful-. To the point that listening to more of the tunes was another major factor in my desire to just crush stage after stage.

But yeah- all in all, this was my experience with Bleak Sword. Well, beyond the fact that I highly recommend using a controller. Yes, you can remap the keyboard controls (and even include the mouse) – but, it wasn’t my tool of choice here.

That detail aside- I overall had a -lot- of fun. While simple, the overall story felt -fun- to engage with and witness. (And there were- some neat details to be found in the game’s bestiary). That said, the real star of the show was the gameplay. It’s a -solid-, challenging experience, and I was surprised at the sheer amount of variety that it provided. What’s more, if you were like me, and stacked your offense to the high heavens, the Arena provides a -very- solid avenue for you to see the full repertoire of your enemies arsenals- because they -are- more than one trick ponies. A fact that kept me on my toes the entire time.

Which is a lot of words to say, I recommend this game, – enough to call it a very solid HIT.


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