Blood, betrayal, and suffering introduce the once Apple Arcade title Bleak Sword DX. Though its visuals are minimalistic, they — and the striking black, white, and red palette — impress on me the game’s brutal world. But hope shines in the form of a stick figure-esque hero who’s ready to take on the land’s foul ruler.
As this optimistic youth, I stride into the Yrkwood Forest, sword in hand. Combat is familiar. I have light and heavy attacks at my disposal, restricted only by a stamina meter. Blocking at the right time leaves me a chance to counterattack my foes, and, should blocking fail, a smooth dodge roll can get me out of a jam.
Before committing to the first level, I see a chunky pixel overview of my path filled with ten stages. Heading into level 1-1, a pair of bats — because bats are the worst — swoop down. I easily dispatch them and raise my sword in victory. This first taste of success earns me a moment to sit by a healing campfire, a strengthening beast heart consumable, and some experience points.
This welcome scene plays out every time I clear another level of monsters. Each new locale in the forest consists of only a single, square room pierced with tall trees where new and stronger monsters await. Encounters with humanoid tongue creatures and deer-like beasts prompt a new entry in my bestiary, and I slice through them all with relative ease.
But the final room holds a true monstrosity. A giant, crowned with jagged antlers and glowing red eyes, looms over me. It quickly dashes my body to the ground. Death, however, isn’t the end. I have one chance to go back to reclaim the experience points and items taken from me in defeat.
Lightning flashes through the woods, which turns the field completely white for a second. I admire how fantastic the effect looks, but the moment of blindness adds another level of difficulty to the fight. Nearing the contest’s end, both me and my foe can take only one hit before falling. I make a desperate gamble and roll in close, piercing it before the next blow lands.
The fight feels epic in a way that seems incredible given the low-fi graphics, and I’m glad the game is migrating to platforms where more players can experience it. Anyone interested can even head to Bleak Sword‘s Steam page to download and try out the demo for themselves. I wish them luck.