After installing a bunch of games from the App store using the new Apple Aracde gaming subscription, I immediately clicked on the Bleak Sword. I did so because at first glance the game’s icon looked like an 8-bit character and I was also looking for a game without a heavy RPG type back story.
I thought that Bleak Sword would be a game I could just instantly drop in and out of to get an idea of the quality of Apple Arcade games. Little did I know that this game would take me on a journey of perseverance, focus, and exhaustion.
The likes of which I never expected from a mobile game. This is my Bleak Sword review developed by Devolver Digital in collaboration with More8bit studios.
Bleak Sword Review
Bleak Sword is a tactical fighting game set in a world plagued by evil. The story is simple enough just like the game’s controls. The developers have fine-tuned every movement in the game to adapt superbly to touch control. Never once I wished for a physical controller to play this game, even when I was stuck on a level for hours. This is a huge achievement on its own.
The world of Bleak Sword is painted in three colors. The characters in this world are white-colored, their eyes are black and most of them all bleed red.
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The game takes you from harrowing forests to deadly snowy mountains and caves filled with undead creatures. All of these stages are presented in a square or rectangular like a sandbox where enemies keep charging in from different directions and you have to slay them.
The developer Devolver studios have done a fantastic job in making the player feel trapped in a box with creatures who just want to kill them. At times the game did introduce the feeling of claustrophobia in me, especially when I was cornered with low health and enemies kept spawning like flies all around me.
Speaking of enemies, each new stage has its enemy type. The stages are divided into levels and as you progress from its first level to the last, the enemies get more dangerous.
There are also bosses at the end of each stage and to be frank, most of them didn’t pose a big enough challenge for me. The game’s difficulty instead rises from the player’s mistake. Whenever you die during a fight, all your recently gained experience and items are taken away. You do have one chance to reclaim them back by beating the same level again.
However, if you continue to mess up like this two or three times then enemies will keep getting harder and you’ll be stuck in a loop of dying and losing your experience points. I lost two passive items during the sixth stage and kept dying after that. Eventually, the new enemies became way tougher to kill and I had to restart the game altogether.
I, for one, appreciate these features as they demand a sense of razor-sharp focus from the players. It also makes the already hard-earned progression even sweeter.
Bleak Sword consists of three main moves: Blocking, Rolling/dodging and Attacking. The 8-bit stick figure that you control cannot walk from one point to the next, it can only roll or dodge.
Whenever an enemy attacks you can either roll/dodge the attack or block it using your shield and perform a counter-attack. If you’re feeling extra lucky then you can attack at the same time your enemy is charging at you.
The players have limited stamina to attack. However, rolling/dodging an attack consumes no stamina at all. Also if you successfully block an attack then you regain all your stamina for your counter-attack.
Speaking of attacks, every blow that your weapon makes in the Bleak Sword feels absolutely satisfying. The amazing feeling of slaying a huge enemy after a successful dodge or block is only intensified by the rightly placed sound effects which add to the intensity of the fight.
After nearly finishing a level with almost no health while defeating a ton of enemies sends a rush of endorphins into your brain, a feeling I never expected from a mobile game.
The enemy variety ranges from slow crawling and heavy-hitting minotaurs to fast-moving worms and bats. Ghosts are especially difficult to kill in the game as they’re constantly appearing and disappearing, making it difficult to land a heavy blow.
The stages of the game also add to its difficulty. From horse riding stages to snowstorms and trap-filled dungeons, levels in the Bleak Sword game on Apple Arcade offer more than just minor inconvenience to the progression.
The battle during a single level lasts two or three minutes and is mostly very fast-paced. You can’t afford to stand in one place and block all the attacks as two or more enemies will gang up on you. Further adding to the difficulty is a lack of any sort of health regeneration.
Your players will only gain health once they get killed off or you reach a new level. You can get consumable items that increase your health but finding them is nothing short of a rare occurrence.
Making gameplay even tougher is an extremely limited inventory slot. You can only hold two items at a time and often times it gets tough to decide whether you want to use a consumable and restore your health so you can survive the next round, or keep holding that precious stat booster and take your chances.
Bleak Sword Review: Verdict
Bleak Sword is a mostly monochromatic journey of determination and perseverance. It is a game you can just pick up any time you want but you won’t truly appreciate the high focus requirement of the Bleak Sword until you don’t play it for at least 2 hours straight.
The bichromatic theme of the game represents not only its visuals but also the only two moods that you’ll experience throughout the roughly 8 hours of gameplay. You’ll either feel anxious about the next upcoming enemy or you’ll feel victorious after finally beating the level that had you pinned down for several hours.
Bleak Sword is one of the best lessons in making a tactical fighting game work so well on a mobile phone and I can’t recommend it enough. The Apple Aracde may have several great games but the Bleak Sword is the most rewarding among them.
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