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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Black Knight Sword and Hotline Miami

TranscriptEdit

Now that we're done with Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Saturnalia or generic bland obligatory half-remembered swamp of gluttony and resentment, we've a few weeks to kill before the time of year I've come to call "Phew, coast is clear, gang" when everything they didn't want to try and compete with seasonal sales makes a break for it now that Call of Duty's done eating all the money in the world and is lying in a bloated stupor dreaming happy little dreams about oppressing the under-privileged.

So like the England cricket team, I've been trying to keep up with the Indies. And with the end-of-year Steam sales, I can certainly think of worse times to do so, like the Battle of Stalingrad, or when your head has gotten trapped in a Lego castle.

Counter-intuitively, though, the first one that caught my eye was an XBLA game called Black Knight Sword, an informative, if grammatically iffy title, 'cause it's about a knight in black armour who uses a sword. If only other games were willing to wear its colours so prominently in their titles, it'd certainly make cataloging them much easier, like Orange Nerd Crowbar or Brown Sweaty Racism or Red Dead Revolv oh wait.

Interestingly enough, Black Sword Knight Black comes to us from an occasional friend and possible nutter, Suda51, and is strongly reminiscent of those weird 2D paper doll things from his last-but-one game Shadows of the Damned, all made to look like a 2D cardboard puppet show with Terry Gilliam-esque visuals and sound, telling the story of a bloke who hangs himself, turns into a black knight and then opts to use his new lease on life to meander through a succession of levels and boss fights themed around slightly fucked-up animal fables. And thank Christ, Suda, 'cos after Shadows of the Damned and Lollipop Chainsaw, I was afraid your narratives were getting too coherent!

In fairness, it's more like poetry than standard game story telling with the aesthetic in a Grimm fairy tale slurpily making out with surreal Pythonesque imagery and an on-going narration by someone who sounds like Vincent Price teaching his children how to pull the legs off spiders. Maybe the plot comes together in the end, I wouldn't know, 'cos the actual game plays like arse. And by arse, I of course mean the late 16-bit era, third party platformer- oh wait, actually I do mean arse.

The checkpoint system is like a crippled dog attempting to pole dance; awful, bewildering, and not the least bit sexy! Get this: if you run out of lives, you have to restart the level without upgrades, by which I mean all the upgrades you've acquired since the very start of the game inexplicably gouged out of your black knight bum. Unless you do a manual save from the pause menu after every checkpoint, which you can only reload from the title screen after quitting out of the game after sitting through three fucking loading screens!

Game quality is subjective to taste, but there is one aspect that can be calculated mathematically: Between getting killed and getting back into the action, time plus number of button presses plus extremely grating repeated sound effects equals how many bits of myself I will have chewed off by the end of the game!

I get that it's trying to make you seriously want to not die but the game is deliberately hard, so it's throwing rocks at your head without warning and yelling "Try harder, you prick!" And all the unnecessary slow and ornate menus and loading screens completely pile-drives the pacing into a concrete traffic barrier to the point that it just ruins the whole thing. I suppose you might like it if you've secretly murdered your wife and are seeking punishment to assuage your guilt, otherwise can't recommend.

Moving on...

You know what video games need more of these days? Violence! I'm surprised no one's ever thought of that. It seems like such an obvious fix since people who play video games are all frustrated social misfits with secret longings for power over others in whatever twisted demented forms they can get it, and you'd think more developers would capitalize on that. Well, this niche is finally being filled with Hotline Miami, a rather unique blend of arcade action and various forms of mental illness.

In a retro depiction of Miami blearily glimpsed through a psychedelic haze, you are tasked to complete a series of massacres against an unspecific criminal organization at the behest of your answering machine while descending further and further into whatever madness caused you to employ a piece of home office equipment as your lifestyle coach in the first place. It's presented in a top-down floorplan perspective with retro pixelly graphics like a cross between Dreamweb, GTA: Vice City and Super Meat Boy, and good thing too, 'cause as I was throwing boiling water in a man's face and repeatedly smashing his head against the kitchen floor while his friend crawled around trying to gather bits of escaped brain, I remember thinking "It's lucky it's all stylized or I might have thought it was a bit fucked-up!"

What drives the Super Meat Boy comparison is that pacing is almost the entire opposite of Purple Monkey Dishwater above you die instantly from the slightest mistake but you can reload and be back in the action before your guts are finished flopping out onto the zebra-skin rug. I'd call it "trial and error" but the pacing is way too fast for a whole two syllable word. It's more like "trial and err- Restart, try again!"

At first, you might make the mistake in trying to be methodical and plan your way strategically. "Mmm yes, a direct assault through this entrance I think, disable guard A, take his gun, waste 2.7 seconds, smash open this door, knock out guard B, shoot guard C through the window across the room and- Whoops, forgot about that patrolling guard dog that was trained to equate jugular veins with bacon strips!" So then you restart and make a noise somewhere along the lines of "GRAAAAGGGGHHLLLL" and this time run around swinging a katana around like your mum let you eat too many sweets before the anime convention and somehow this works out a lot better. It really captures the desperate adrenaline-pumping berserker rage that come from having to live in the 1980's, but when the synth music stops blaring and the red mist fades away and you take stock of the ocean of mutilated bodies lapping gently around your ankles, you have to think to yourself "I am so fucked in the head that my frontal lobe is essentially a bellend."

The story is a bit ambiguous, but I think it does a good job conveying how absolutely bonkers you are, as hallucinations and reality become impossible to separate and your lucid moments feel like the brief snatches of air a drowning man grabs when his head momentarily breaks surface. The conclusion isn't particularly satisfying, but it's not a deal breaker, 'cos it's equally engaging to cry Frothing Bollock Milkshakes to story and just concentrate on beating your massacre high score, you monster.

For want of criticism, there's one very misguided forced stealth chapter in which the pacing comes to a screeching halt and a game like this can't afford to slow down for long 'cause we might end up thinking, "Hey, this gameplay's really frustrating and all the synth music is starting to get on my tits! Not seriously on my tits, just sort of nestling on the sternum area like a sleeping cat and I don't want to wake it but I kind of need to be somewhere."

On the whole though, it's really quite engaging and I found myself jolly hooked indeed, so I recommend Hotline Miami, or, to use the new naming system, Magenta Nutcase Kitchenfloor!

Addenda Edit

  • Yellow Critic Knob Gags: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • We'd be pretty fucked if gang members started hanging out in rooms where the doors only opened outwards
  • For me it's self-checkout machines that make me want to murder people

ScreenshotsEdit

BlackKnight1

...Awful, bewildering and not the least bit sexy.

Miami

I kinda need to be somewhere.

Miami2

Magenta Nutcase Kitchen-Floor!

External LinksEdit

Black Knight Sword

Hotline Miami

Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
Q3 Get Even · Hollow Knight / Dead Cells · Fifth Console Generation · The End is Nigh, and Yonder: Cloud Catcher Chronicles · Pyre · Splatoon 2 · Hellblade · Agents of Mayhem · Sonic Mania · Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle · Destiny 2 · Metroid: Samus Returns
Q4 Knack 2 and SteamWorld Dig 2 · Cuphead

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