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Sore Thumbs

1/2/2013

sore thumbs black1‘BLACK KNIGHT SWORD’    (M)

**1/2

D3 Publisher

PlayStation Network

“Black Knight Sword” begins with closed red curtains and the murmur of an audience anxious for the show to begin. Then the curtains are drawn to reveal the stage, across which the titular knight will sidescroll for the duration of the performance. Background objects are puppeteered on sticks and foreground props are dropped in by spectral stagehands as needed. The play itself involves the hacking and slashing of enemies who appear as though they’ve sprung forth from the combined imaginations of macabre painter Hieronymus Bosch and Monty Python cartoonist Terry Gilliam. There are melancholy disembodied heads coughing up fireballs, a giant eyeball with six mouths selling you items and floating platforms in the form of feline snouts. Even by the standards of a 2D sidescroller — a genre that began with a mustachioed plumber stomping on walking mushrooms — “Black Knight Sword” is weeeiiiird.

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Developer Grasshopper Manufacture is no stranger to strangeness. And like their other unusual games — “Killer7,” “Shadows of the Damned,” “Lollipop Chainsaw” —“Black Knight Sword” isn’t much fun to play. It’s unreasonably difficult — even compared to the 16-bit era platformers whose gameplay it’s so clearly trying to emulate. The gameplay isn’t nearly as innovative as its aesthetic, and even the visuals begin to grow tiresome once the initial shock has worn off. It’s cool that the drawn curtains frame the screen as a constant reminder you’re onstage. The audience even applauds your victories and grumbles about your defeats. But it’s all meaningless. Weirdness for weirdness’ sake. The story does nothing to justify the presentation, and unless you linger on the start screen long enough for the hidden prologue to kick in, there’s no story at all. Had Grasshopper Manufacture spent a little less time concocting bizarre creatures and a little more time crafting a story and gameplay that called for them, they might’ve had something worth recommending.

 

sore thumbs underbox‘UNDER DEFEAT HD’    (E10+)

***1/2

Rising Star Games

PlayStation Network

“Under Defeat HD” is a scrolling top-down shoot’em-up like Capcom’s “1943,” but with a twist. Since you’re piloting a helicopter, you can rotate and fire at an angle, moving in one direction and shooting in another. In order to manage this, previous versions of the game forced you to adapt to an awkward control scheme in which the joystick rotated your chopper whenever you weren’t firing and moved its overall position whenever you were. But thanks to this update (and modern dual-stick controllers) you’ve got one thumbstick dedicated to rotation and the other to movement, just as nature intended.

 

sore thumbs sonicbox‘SONIC AND ALL-STARS RACING TRANSFORMED’    (E10+)

***1/2

Sega

PlayStation Vita

Like its home console brethren, the portable version of “Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed” is about as good a “Mario Kart” rip-off as you’re liable to find. It even has a few nice little touches of its own, like your kart’s ability to spontaneously transform into amphibious or airborne variants as the terrain requires. The graphics aren’t as pretty as they were on PS3, but this is still the most attractive kart racer available on a handheld platform NOT made by Nintendo. CV

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