Bleak Sword DX Review [Switch] – Gritty and Gothic

We adore games that push the boundaries of what’s possible aesthetically, whether it’s the character or map designs. More8bist’s Bleak Sword DX features a wonderful pixelated diorama style that takes you back to the days of stepping inside a bustling …

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We adore games that push the boundaries of what’s possible aesthetically, whether it’s the character or map designs. More8bist’s Bleak Sword DX features a wonderful pixelated diorama style that takes you back to the days of stepping inside a bustling arcade to play your favorite retro titles.

But, how does the gameplay feel? In this review, we’ll be taking a deep dive into the core elements of the fantasy action game.

Published by Devolver Digital, who are behind popular titles such as Cult of the Lamb and Trek to Yomi, Bleak Sword DX is an updated version of the original Apple Arcade game. This new version provides players with brand-new map layouts, chapters, and fresh challenges. Not only do you have the campaign mode, but you also have the Boss Run gauntlet, Arena, and Randomizer options.

The Aesthetics

image from bleak sword dx with the character walking through puddles of water as a skeleton looms nearby, there is also a stone pillar with skulls atop, they all look to be inside of a stone dungeon

One of the first things that appealed to us in Bleak Sword DX is the gothic atmosphere throughout. The game itself feels extremely ominous, especially when you’re faced with a distorted skull with a gaping mouth whenever you’re defeated. It suits the game perfectly, with danger lurking around every corner – sometimes literally, with the spiders hiding behind trees.

It’s accompanied by a chilling soundtrack and gritty sound effects, with a score by Jim Guthrie, and provided by Joonas Turner. The decision to go with a black, white, and red palette is the icing on the cake – the red standing out against the monochrome diorama.

We do have to mention that the game desperately needs a flash warning though. There are certain stages that include a bright flash across the screen during combat, which is extremely dangerous for those with photosensitive epilepsy. Hopefully, the developer will introduce this in a future update.

Many Challenges Await

When you first load up Bleak Sword DX, you have the option to play the classic version of Bleak Sword or the brand-new version, DX. While we’re focusing on the latter in this review, we appreciate the addition of the classic game as this gives new players a chance to delve into the original. Furthermore, there are 3 difficulty modes in total, Normal, Doom, and Bleak – we chose to go with Normal for our first playthrough.

DX features 12 maps in total, with the first being Yrkwood Forest. You need to complete each map as you go along to unlock the others. The map consists of multiple stages to beat before you can move on to the next. This gives the game a fantastic sense of progression, most notably when beating a stage that you were stuck on.

Additionally, the Beastiary offers players a chance to see which creatures they’ve come across throughout their journey.

The Core Gameplay

image from bleak sword dx of the main character watching two skeletons battle each other as they all stand inside of a stone dungeon

It wouldn’t be a notoriously punishing game if you didn’t have the looming worry of losing your collected items and EXP of course. While it can be frustrating, it adds an extra layer of challenging gameplay to the mix.

However, if you are defeated during a stage, you have one singular chance to beat said stage to retrieve your items and EXP. Luckily, your HP and stamina are fully replenished if you choose to try again. If you are defeated by the level again, you will lose your items and EXP – the same goes if you opt to go back a stage.

If you’re stuck on a specific stage, we recommend going back to the previous stages that you have already beaten. You can farm EXP and items by doing this, which means you can raise your level a little before taking on the difficult stage again.

Certain stages will reward you with an optional item that provides you with a useful stat buff. Attack, health, and defense are the only stats in Bleak Sword DX. Some items can actually downgrade a stat while upgrading another, so it’s best to pay close attention to the effects of each item. This is a nice little feature that allows you to be strategic with which items you collect and choose to equip on your character.

In fact, some items can only be used once, for example, the consumable Beast Eye which increases your defense stat by 1. Plus, each time you level up, you can choose between two stats to upgrade – handy!

The Combat – Simple and Fun

image from bleak sword dx of the character battling against a large enemy holding a sword, as the enemy has a red exclamation mark above their head as they're about to strike

The combat is excellent in Bleak Sword DX, with simple controls that allow you to focus on enemy and boss mechanics. You’re encouraged to pay attention to how your dynamic opponents move and how they’ll strike next. An example of this is how the spiders quickly charge toward you but run away as you turn on them.

Some enemies will display a red exclamation mark above them before they perform a blockable ability. This means you can prepare for a parry attack, which is one of the most important parts of combat in the game.

Parry attacks deal heavy damage but can be fiddly when trying to get used to blocking an enemy in time. With the number of opponents that have charge attacks, parrying can be a little difficult at times – but that’s all part of the challenge.

Bleak Sword DX is ultimately a wonderfully presented experience which offers a healthy challenge – but it’s probably not for the faint of heart.

The good

  • Gorgeous pixelated diorama graphics
  • Simple yet fun combat
  • Brilliant soundtrack

The bad

  • Needs a flash warning for certain stages
  • Not recommended for those who dislike punishing games
80 out of 100

Staff Writer
With experience writing for GameRant and in SEO copywriting, Adele loves to combine her adoration for gaming and writing. She'll talk your ear off about Final Fantasy, and if she's not typing away at her desk, she's probably playing a JRPG somewhere.