Review – Bleak Sword DX

HEY, YOU. Yeah, you with the face and the shirt. Are you tired of your video games giving you meaning and fulfillment? Do you squirm with discomfort at the notion of feeling like you’re making progress? Put down the bells and turnips, your villagers hate you, and Tom Nook is a war criminal! It’s time to give up and accept that life is entropy and you’re not even worthy to die properly. Eternal slumber? Blissful nothingness? NOT TODAY, NOT EVER. It’s time to enter the hellish machine of Bleak Sword DX.

You want a story? We’ve got the bare bones of one, just like your skeleton will litter the battlefields across space and time! There was a king who was not terrible, so his son HATED him and needed to murder the crown right off his empty head. When a cursed sword tells you to kill, you listen and also commit fratricide at no extra charge! Now there’s an immortal king who started his rule with a double homicide and actually got worse from there. There’s magic stones to destroy the sword and kill the king, and that won’t undo two centuries of misery, but maybe you’ll be king next! Call in reinforcements? NO, you do this on your own and prove to that gym teacher that climbing the rope doesn’t matter when you’re busy dying in a swamp!

Bleak Sword DX King

This game is like a Magic Eye puzzle: it took me six minutes till I finally saw the king.

Why should games be complex and pretty? You aren’t trying to woo the farmer’s daughter and escape your day job! Bury your heart in Stardew Valley, it’s time to enter the trichromatic kaleidoscope of Bleak Sword DX. White, black, and red are all you need to know what’s happening, even if you don’t know what’s happening! You’re white! The bats are white! That giant minotaur is white! Black is everything else, or nothing else! Do you see red? Congratulations, then something is bleeding! Maybe it’s you, maybe it’s them, maybe it’s the land itself screaming for release, anything is possible. You won’t know what’s what until after it’s killed you eight times, maybe more.

Bleak Sword DX Death

Spoiler: this is not the red skull of “you did a good job.”

Sprawling landscapes are for tunic-clad heroes who wolf down raw ingredients to stave off death instead of welcoming it with open, bleeding arms. Save your Tears of the Kingdom for the pillow, Bleak Sword DX gives you a tiny square to fight in and that’s it. Running? Hiding? Planning to do anything besides dying in a field? That’s some pipe dream nonsense that has no place here. These compact levels mean observing, moving, and then getting comfortable with the death animation as you learn that perspective is a lie, much like the afterlife. Your character might be 1D, but the threat of homicide comes from all angles and all places, especially the ones you weren’t considering! Did that killer slug look like a bush? Of course it did, evolution exists only to end YOUR lineage. 

Bleak Sword DX monsters

Swamp tentacles, ironically, are the most tender and loving of the murder monsters.

Complex battle mechanics are for tacticians and people too interested in not becoming a statistic. Sunny Day into Solar Beam? Bleak Sword DX just hits you with a sword until you’re sore. You have four buttons: roll, block, hit, and the Home button so you can quit and walk away. Your stamina bar only gets affected by swinging your sword, so get good at doing a Sonic spin dash across the room while enemies slowly corner you.

Go ahead, run away, they don’t care: the end result is always the same. Get good at blocking, but also at timing, because holding down the L button is worse than trying to insist that your mom thinks you’re handsome. You can’t just SAY it all the time, you need to drop it at the right moment, confuse your opponent, and then SLASH WILDLY. Am I talking about the game or high school? Either is applicable depending on zoning laws.

Bleak Sword DX upgrades

Which one will help you die more slowly? Trick question, you’re still screwed!

Bleak Sword DX will fool you into thinking that progress exists and matters under the pretense that there’s actual forward movement. EXP and items are novel and grand, but this isn’t a JRPG. Scream “Nani?!?!” all you want, you’ll lose any momentum the second you start a new level. You have two chances to actually get better and then you’re done: dying once per stage is expected, twice is a shameful and dirty thing, like those magazines under your mattress. Better Homes and Gardens? You absolute monster.

Bleak Sword DX will show you items that buff your strength or defense, fill a bar with experience to almost level up (which will heal you and add more stats) and then rip it away with the casual twist of a child beheading a Barbie doll. Did you learn enough from the six seconds of life to ensure you won’t die a second time? Of course you didn’t! Goodbye, useful ring and a chance at happiness: we barely knew ye!


Screenshot to prove that I didn’t spend the whole game dead, just most of it.

Lather, rinse, repeat. These are instructions on your shampoo, and these rules apply to every run of Bleak Sword DX. Create a fine foam of gore on the screen and at the corners of your mouth as you become apoplectic at the way the game treats you. Rinse the spittle off your Switch and gargle with a stiff drink to try and calm your nerves. Drinking helped your other problems, surely it applies here! Repeat until you reach a boss, either within the game or the one at work who demands to know why you smell like Thunderbird wine at 9AM on a Monday, and where they can get some. Bosses will be a welcome reprieve because they are supposed to be difficult, and the natural order is restored when one mashes you into a fine paste. Massive death moose? Just like the fortune teller predicted!

Bleak Sword DX combat

Wouldst thou like the taste of butter?

Bleak Sword DX wants you to hate it and hate yourself, and it’s gotten an online degree in loathing from the University of Phoenix. It’s the embittered spirit of a Dickensian orphan crammed into a child’s puzzle manufactured in a Soviet-era toy factory. It’s a Soulslike without soul, just pain and the word “progress” spray painted and misspelled on a truck coming to run you over. It’s an Apple Arcade game that lets iPhone users find even more reasons to be angry, and it came to the world to inspire everyone to just give up. It’s tight in execution, just like a noose, but without the satisfying release after you say the safe word. It’s as grim as it should be and unapologetic, and that’s admirable. Just walk into Bleak Sword DX and accept your punishment.


Graphics: 4.0

I understand it’s supposed to be ugly and pixel heavy, and it does a good job of crafting unique sprites for the different stages. That doesn’t change that it’s almost uncomfortable to look at for most of the time.

Gameplay: 8.0

Boiling down gameplay to the Spartan requirements of a soulslike is a genius stroke and makes sense within the constrictions of this world. Hard as hell to perfect but incredibly satisfying once it lands.

Sound: 6.0

Music is very minor in the scope of things: intent on sound effects and dramatic stings makes for a better focal point in trying to perfect timing and understanding.

Fun Factor: 8.0

When you’re up for something devastating mentally but not emotionally, this is the right game for you. Getting hooked is easy, staying hooked is harder, but there’s always the chance to start over.

Final Verdict: 7.0

Bleak Sword DX is available now on Nintendo Switch and Steam.

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

A copy of Bleak Sword DX was provided by the publisher.