If you mixed together a level-based take on the Soulslike formula, stylish lo-fi visuals, and diorama landscapes, you’d get Bleak Sword DX. I know, I know, it sounds like a peculiar amalgamation, but it’s one that works really, really well. After hitting the Apple Arcade in 2019, it’s now also available on PC and the Nintendo Switch, albeit in a revamped form that brings with it an all-new way to experience the gruelling yet rewarding adventure.

Check out some screenshots down below:

Bleak Sword DX takes place in a land that has seen the king slain by his own son, with the prince’s mind corrupted by a powerful weapon known as the Bleak Sword. This saw a dark time hit the land, with vile creatures running rampant and causing misery for over two-hundred years. Now, thanks to the power of magical crystals, a warrior is able to fight back and bring an end to the tyranny brought forth by the Bleak Sword. It’s a good ol’ fashioned fantasy tale of a monarchy gone mad that doesn’t do anything too original, but it does a good job of giving a bit of context to the adventure you’re about to embark on.

And believe me, that adventure is one heck of a fun one, but it should be worth noting that Bleak Sword DX is all about simplicity. You’re able to mash light attacks to deal some quick damage, hit a heavy attack that’s slower but packs a bit more oomph, block to deflect incoming attacks and quickly counter enemies, and utilise a dodge roll to swiftly get out of the way of incoming attacks, with the player’s capabilities all pretty simple and not really evolving as you progress. You are able to equip items that bring with them varying bonuses and you’ll earn experience points to level up and increase your stats, but the core gameplay loop revolves around these simple manoeuvres with no big changes in the way of weaponry or your skillset.

Despite this, I found myself utterly engrossed in the game’s combat. There’s a good variety of enemies that’ll keep you on your toes with their diverse capabilities and varied range of aggression, whilst the fact that you have to manage your stamina and fighting distance carefully means you can’t just go button mashing carefree either. Bleak Sword DX is deceptively strategic, and when you’re facing off against multiple enemies that each attack in different ways, you’ve really got to have your wits about you if you want to have any chance of survival. It’s frantic, but in this super satisfying way that makes each combat situation so exciting to battle through. And don’t get me STARTED on the boss encounters, which are thrilling and gruelling in equal measure.

“Bleak Sword DX is deceptively strategic, and when you’re facing off against multiple enemies that each attack in different ways, you’ve really got to have your wits about you if you want to have any chance of survival.”

In fact, the whole of Bleak Sword DX can be pretty tough. I wouldn’t say it’s the hardest game you’ll play, but you can certainly expect to die on a regular basis, with the punishment being the loss of your items and unspent experience points that you’ve gained up to that point. You do get the opportunity to earn these back by replaying the level and beating it on your next attempt, but if you fail? It’s gone for good. It can be a bit rough losing this stuff, especially since the level you died at would be tougher the second time around without those items to give you a boost, but it never felt unfair – the short level-based setup of Bleak Sword DX makes it more forgiving than a lot of similar releases, so it’s not like you’ll lose a ton of progress and have to replay through whole areas of the game again.

Speaking of progress, you’ll work your way through the game by completing individual levels that span across a variety of different areas. These levels are made up of a small diorama setting, with enemies then spawning in that you need to defeat in order to clear the level. There’ll also be a bunch of different objects and sights to see befitting of the environment, whilst there’ll also occasionally be weather effects in-play to spice things up. And if you want to grind your stats? You can re-play previous levels, allowing you to give yourself a boost if a particular level is a bit too challenging. The levels are all small in scale and won’t take more than a few minutes to beat, but it complements the game’s simple and quick-paced style, making it easy to find yourself in that addictive loop of clearing ‘just one more level’ over and over again.

It’s tantalising stuff and I found myself fully invested in Bleak Sword DX’s adventure, with my roughly four-hour playthrough all done across one sitting. There’s more on offer when you beat the game though, with players able to tackle the Arena mode to take on a survival challenge where the enemies get tougher and the Boss Rush mode to take on all bosses in the game in succession. Meanwhile, you can play the main campaign in its original form or even with a randomiser to vary up the levels you face, giving players an all-new way to experience the main game. With multiple difficulty levels on offer too, there’s plenty on offer to keep players coming back for more.

Check out some screenshots down below:

I just REALLY enjoyed my time playing the game, whilst the visual style suited the haunting vibe perfectly. It’s impressive just how atmospheric the lo-fi aesthetic felt (though plenty of fancy visual effects helped this), with the enemy and environment design looking fantastic throughout with its minimalistic setup. It just seemed to get better and better with every new thing I encountered in the game, with the developer showcasing just how creative a fantasy world can be with just a few colours.

Bleak Sword DX Review

Bleak Sword DX might keep things simple with its combat and visual style, but it makes for an engrossing experience that’s a ton of fun to play. I loved the gameplay loop of progressing between levels, levelling up, and dealing with every new threat the game sent my way, whilst the more challenging moments (and many deaths) never feel like a massive deterrent thanks to the game’s bite-size level setup. And sure, it can be rough losing your items and experience points, but with players getting a shot at redemption, it never feels unfair.

It’s just a really cool take on the Soulslike formula, with Bleak Sword DX offering an experience that doesn’t necessarily do anything new, but that still manages to feel fresh and creative.

Developer: More8Bit
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platform(s): PC (Reviewed), Nintendo Switch
Website: https://store.steampowered.com/app/2193050/Bleak_Sword_DX/