Bleak Sword DX Switch Impressions: The Sword And The Stones

Bleak Sword was initially released for Apple Arcade in 2019, and now, Bleak Sword DX is out for the first time on non-mobile platforms. I got a chance to play both the PC and Switch iterations of the game at various lengths, and I have to say I’m loving the handheld experience.

Playing as a barely human figure, I’m tasked with collecting three mystical stones which have the power to defeat a villainous ruler and his cursed weapon, the bleak sword. I noted how masterfully the developers set the tone with the beginning cutscene in an earlier preview. But even seeing it a second time, I couldn’t pull my eyes away from the drama unfolding.

The almost comically pared-down visuals should make the heroic beats laughable — zooming in on a faceless stick for a close-up shouldn’t get my blood pumping. But it does. I’m just as ready to pick up my sword and storm the castle gates as I was my first time playing. The OLED screen certainly helps with the effect as the punctuating black, white, and red palette comes through remarkably well.

But what actually makes Bleak Sword DX so good is its bite-sized design. Whether hiking through dense forest, riding through hazardous plains, wading in mucky swampland, skirting inflamed buildings, or navigating any number of unique, game-changing environments, each level should only take a moment to finish — if done right.

Of course, it’s nearly impossible to get things right the first time around. Maybe for the first world it’s not so tasking, but as I wander through the game’s twelve biomes, the challenge grows. That’s where they get you. Smug with memories of earlier triumphs, I’m conditioned to believe victory is just one more try away. If it is, that’s great as dying in the game works a little like a souls game in that I can regain experience points and items lost at death if I conquer the level that initially left me a puddle of red on the ground.

If, however, I can’t overcome every enemy on my next try, I lose both and still have to get past the challenge. It sounds brutal (and sometimes it is) but the game doesn’t strip players of levels once they’re earned. So if I’m at level five and just inches away from level six before dying, I may have to get my progress back up to reach level six, but I’ll always remain at level five.

This gives the game the feeling of stakes while at the same time not too punishing. On top of that, I feel after every failure that I’m just inches from success. I never really lose in Bleak Sword, I’m just not quite winning yet. And while the combat requires a patient hand — button mashers beware — the controls my not be completely optimal for the new platform. That’s not to say they are bad, but I did notice times when I wanted to attack an enemy right in front of me but for some reason I went sailing off to the side.

The benefit of having Bleak Sword DX on Switch is I can take it traveling, which I’ll be doing a lot of during this Summer Showcase Season. Hopefully, I’ll be able to demolish the evil usurper and send the bleak sword to oblivion while I’m on the go because I can’t wait to hold my weapon above my head in my final victory.

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