Unsheathe a bite-sized retro hack and slash with enough visual punch and tight gameplay to hook you for a grimly enchanting experience in our Bleak Sword DX review!
Bleak Sword DX is not a game in which you spend a hundred hours (a la Tears of the Kingdom) uncovering labyrinth secrets in a vast world, nor is it a cozy slice-of-life visual novel filled with text. Rather, it does what it says right on the tin: “Pure, thrilling, and wonderfully cruel, Bleak Sword DX is a dark fantasy action game challenging warriors to fight their way through compact, cursed diorama battlefields.”
While short compared to most block buster titles these days, its unique and engrossing visual atmosphere and peeled-back soulslike gameplay are enough for its entry fee. Released in 2019 for Apple Arcade, the Nintendo Switch and Steam port for June 2023 adds enough extras to bulk it up a bit from it’s mobile roots. It comes with three spiffy new DLC chapters, adding to the games’ original 12 stages.
Additionally, a randomizer campaign is now available, a boss run gauntlet that features only one lone healthbar, an arena mode, a touched up control system designed for console play, and a graphics upgrade jump that suits stronger hardware, such as the PC and Switch (I mean, the term stronger for the Switch miiiight be a little bit of a reach), rather than it’s original mobile appurtenance.
Bleak Sword DX Review – Story and Visuals
The plot is basic, and only serves as a vehicle for it’s lushly desolate atmosphere (hello, oxymoron!). An evil king has been ruling a kingdom for many, many years, until you, white blob hero with a sword, comes to put an end to his rule, vanquishing ghoulish horrors. Here’s what the visuals looks like in action:
Its sprite and 3D polygon work spread across a contained diorama-style view, with a sparse colour palate of blacks, whites, greys and accents of red to create a striking effect on the viewer. The pixels have a slight glow effect, creating an affect similar to old CRT graphics, making you think of a 90s arcade game.
The scenery in each stage has great thought put into each, the particle and weather effects, (such as wind and snow), add to its layered visual style, with you traversing dank dungeons to blustery tundras. The style itself on its face is simple, but it has enough intertwined aspects that give it enough complexity to make it stand out from the crowd.
Bleak Sword DX Review- Gameplay
You get glimpses of cutscenes for flavour, but the real meat and potatoes is the combat system. The basic playtime, with an experienced player, only lasts about 5 to 6 hours. However, that will be extended quite a bit as you will perish, many, many times.
This game is like the distilled essence of a souls demake, with no other bells and whistles to distract you. You hit the ground running, entering into area-like stages, fighting various creatures of the night, and getting power ups and items after fights. You win exp and shove it into stats to become a metaphorical buzzsaw of death and carnage.
It’s a love letter to minimalism, your moveset consisting of an attack, a charged attack, parry and dodge. Enemies are unforgiving, and your strikes and parries need to be accurate for you to stand a chance. Spiders, skeletons, soldiers and harpies all have their own unique movements, and the developers put each of them in just the right stages to really throw a wrench in your works.
While your moveset is limited, the your foes is certainly not, so get ready to learn those patterns and hone those reflexes. You do have a stamina bar that depletes when you attack, so you can’t unleash the spamening upon your enemies.
Bleak Sword DX’s unique mix of sprites and polygons, challenging combat, and innovative level and enemy design create a bite-sizedblea package for you to sink your teeth into. The one downside to this pared-back approach is that it does get repetitive. The basic loop is great to master, and is engaging, but also doesn’t evolve too much beyond those basic mechanics for your tiny hero, which is both a blessing and a curse.
So, why should you play Bleak Sword DX?
- You love gore, grit, and eye-popping diorama-style visuals
- A variety of nightmarish fiends to challenge your skills
But why shouldn’t you play Bleak Sword DX?
- The basic combat loop might become a bit repetitive
- There be no plot here. Go elsewhere for massive lore dumps
A review code on Nintendo Switch was kindly provided by Devolver Digital for our Bleak Sword DX review. If you enjoyed this review, check out our other Devolver reviews and join the Qualbert Discord to chat with us about all these games!