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  • Writer's pictureRoberto Nieves

Bleak Sword DX is a great gateway into the Souls-like genre

Video games can be a gateway to other video games. We all have that first game that cemented us as gamers. Within those games, some titles had us explore the games within the same genre. When you play Doom, you want to play other games like it, from Hard Reset to Dusk. Playing Super Mario Wonder led to discovering Celeste and Cyber Shadow. This can be said for many video games in general, especially the Souls-like genre. The genre can be intimidating, but some games provide a great entry point to learn and grow from.

Over the Summer, Devolver Digital released Bleak Sword DX. This minimalistic, souls-like adventure game puts players into a darkened pixelated world that seems to be pulled from the darkest depths of an old Nintendo console. What appears to be a small and quaint title quickly transforms into easily one of the best indie games on PC and Nintendo Switch. However, it is more than just the dark visuals and gameplay. It's the fact that Bleak Swords DX is a wonderful way to introduce the genre to players.

A Bleak World in Bleak Sword DX

For those that don't know Bleak Sword DX, the game is a souls-like adventure, where players fight evil level-by-level. Honing in on dark 80s and 90s fantasy, a lone nameless hero fights mutant soldiers and monsters across a maligned and deformed kingdom. The mechanics are simple and to the point. Players run, dash, block, and attack to survive enemy encounters. The game has all the basics on paper, with relying on a stamina bar to gauge what to do next. However, what's most special is how teachable the game is.

Heralded titles like Elden Ring and Bloodborne feature awe-inspiring and unforgettable worlds, with each battle feeling like a biblical tale. Swords the size of patio decks clash with monsters born from an insomniac's nightmare, grotesque and twisted in blood and bone. There's no denying their appeal and execution, but they can become remarkably overwhelming for new players. Many a YouTube video can show a backbreaking death in these and other games. There are whispers of players spending four hours taking out a boss in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.

Beware the red, end up dead

Naysayers will say, "Git Gud," but every gamer works and responds differently to every video game. Some may easily understand a game right away, while others may struggle with frustration. This is where Bleak Sword DX shines the most. The game takes the mechanics of a Souls-like and puts them into a formula that is simple yet earned and rewarding. It's not necessarily a lite souls-bourne or an easier one, as the game still takes that hardcore challenge and implements it, albeit in a simpler way.

Chances are, one has heard the phrase easy-to-learn, hard-to-master. Bleak Sword DX is one such game. There aren't any special potions or buffs. No need to revisit levels to level up. Bleak Sword DX welcomes players with a sharp, clean presentation and steadily guides them in combat. There is nothing wrong with learning how to play, but the rest of the experience is entirely up to you.

The Sword is Mightier than the pen

Another addition to Bleak Sword DX are the diorama-inspired levels. Each level appears as a small board like a chunk of the landscape plucked from the world and brought closer. The game has only three colors: White, black, and red. However, everything can be clearly seen in a level, though that doesn't mean players won't die to the hidden swamp monster lurking in the water. Where other games are in the 3rd person and can easily yield a cheap death from behind, Bleak Sword DX gives more visibility.

Fighting monsters is simple but still a challenge. Even in their 2D pixelated form, the enemies are aggressive and unpredictable. Gargoyles, mutant rodents, deranged knights, grotesque monsters, Bleak Sword DX has it all. Many attacks can be parried, but some are too powerful to be parried. Running out of stamina and not dodge rolling leads to disaster. Still, it's an unfair fair fight on each level. Players have the tools to win but need the timing and skill to succeed, especially against numerous foes.

The perks of being simple

While there aren't any big buffs or potions to use, Bleak Sword DX introduces fighting in its purest and simplest form. It's a challenge still work of even the most grizzle of Elden Ring warriors, but it's scaled into something far more approachable. The controls are tightened and refined to a sheen to, making control and combat readily understandable.

In a way, Bleak Sword DX does feel like a game that would have been a smash sensation if released in the 90s. Everyone has a first, and that era had many. The first first-person shooter. The first 3D game. The first kart racer. It's in that simplicity and attention to detail that Bleak Sword DX doesn't feel like an overwhelming experience but a challenging and traditional experience that wants to encourage the player to break them down. Every sword swipe is a reward. Every parry feels euphoric. Surviving another level feels like a triumphant victory.

A Hero Is You

Bleak Sword DX doesn't hold hands. Instead, it disciplines and encourages the player. Every death is another shot to get better without going through the painful throes of frustration. More games could learn a thing or two from Bleak Sword DX in not only creating an exciting experience but also inviting the player to learn and grow. There is no doubt that those who played or will play Bleak Sword DX will grow to challenge themselves and take on the trials and tribulations of Demon Souls and so on.

The magic of video games is sharing experiences with others and encouraging those interested to discover their own paths. Bleak Swords DX is a teacher of sorts on the challenges and joys of Souls-like games. Growing up, games like Sonic The Hedgehog introduced me to mascot platformers, which then led me to play great games like Spyro The Dragon, Crash Bandicoot, Ratchet & Clank, and Sly Cooper. Having entry-level experiences are essential to opening the vast world of video games.

As for the game, yes, Bleak Sword DX is very, very good. Easily the best $10 you'll spend on Nintendo Switch.

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

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