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  • Writer's pictureAntal Bokor

Pocket-Sized Bleak Sword DX Is Stylish, Difficult

I’m a sucker for a good soulslike game, but you have to wade through a lot of bad titles to find the gems. Despite having its origins as a mobile game, I have been having a good time playing through the stylish Bleak Sword DX.

Bleak Sword DX is a stylish lo-fi soulslike. You play as a sword wielding hero who is on a quest to lift the curse of the Bleak Sword. To do this, you’ll have to fight enemies across twelve different zones, with each zone containing about twelve (sometimes fewer) diorama-like levels. Its music and melancholy mood invoke that Dark Souls feel, but Bleak Sword DX uses a lo-fi, almost retro style.

Your character is little more than a stick figure, fighting against a whole array of lo-fi enemies.

Each level in Bleak Sword DX is a single square, usually consisting of a number of obstacles. Sometimes there are hazards like blowing wind, fire, and traps or even enemies that fling projectiles from impossible to get to locations.

There are some exceptions, but most of the time you’ll be fighting on a single tile with a fixed perspective. It’s a holdover from Bleak Sword’s mobile roots, but it’s not too restrictive to make Bleak Sword DX seem inferior.

Combat is simple, but familiar to those who have ever played a soulslike. You can only swing your sword for as long as your stamina allows, and there’s a dodge button. You’ll also have to learn how to fight each of the enemy types you’ll encounter: Enemies broadcast moves. Block and riposte with a well-timed button press.

Unblockable attacks are announced by a large red exclamation point above an enemy’s head. Most single enemies aren’t that difficult to fight -- so it’s not until you have to deal with a multitude of different enemies — most with their own attack behaviors and movesets—that things become really difficult.

Dying in Bleak Sword DX is expected. When you die you leave any picked up items and your experience on whatever level you died at. If you can successfully conquer that level without dying again, you’ll get your items and experience back. Despite Bleak Sword DX’s pocket-sized nature, I found myself pressured to keep playing so I didn’t lose my good items or experience points I had building up, because quitting a level has the same effect as dying in one.

Items you find in Bleak Sword DX only last as long as your current “life” and will be forfeited when you die twice at the same location. Most items I’ve encountered have been mundane, and give me a few extra stats in attack or the occasional health item to heal while in a level. There are different stats you can put points into if you accumulate enough to gain a level. They’re all pretty straight forward: defense, health, and damage output.

If you’ve played Bleak Sword on mobile, you’ll be pleased to know that DX includes all of the DLC chapters, and adds new level layouts and enemy placement. There’s also a campaign randomizer that gives you a remixed version of Bleak Sword DX by changing item and enemy placement. There is a horde mode that allows you test your mettle against increasingly difficult enemies. There’s also a boss rush mode that has you face off against all 12 of the game’s bosses with a single health bar.

I’m usually a bit skeptical when I hear about a phone game coming out on other platforms. However, Bleak Sword DX is a rare exception. Its gameplay transcends platform and it ends up being pretty solid. Despite Bleak Sword DX’s single screen gameplay, there were enough surprises to keep me interested. It’s a unique takes on the soulslike formula, and is definitely recommended for those who want a bite-sized challenge.

Bleak Sword DX is out today for PC via Steam and the Epic Games Store.



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