The previous Apple Arcade reviews that I’ve written have been for games that, in my opinion, are best experienced on a larger screen1. In order to bring a little balance to the force I wanted to try a game that’s more at home on the iPhone.
The Apple Arcade listing for the game describes it as featuring Dark Fantasy Dioramas which is a perfect description of the graphical style used in the game. Bleak Sword sees you facing off against a myriad of increasingly dangerous and powerful beasts and monsters across some compact, yet beautifully designed diorama battlefields.
The controls are easy to pick up, yet difficult to master. With a simple tap, hold, and swipe you’re able to direct your avatar to roll, parry, attack, and counter-attack the various creatures that populate each small level. Controller support is also available, which is always welcome, though as mentioned before, is certainly not necessary. The Apple Arcade listing doesn’t actually indicate controller support is included, but the developer description does. With a little practise you’ll soon be rolling around the screen and slashing your sword around like a pro. Once you get the hang of it it’s very satisfying.
The aim of the game is simply to defeat each levels monsters, whilst taking as little damage as possible. Remaining health rolls over into the next level. Between levels you have a chance of finding various items that increase your stats, such as a sword that adds +1 attack power, or a bracelet that adds +1 health and +2 attack. You get the idea. If you should die along the way you will lose everything you’ve collected and all experienced points you’ve earned so far. You are given an opportunity to get it all back, instantly, by clearing the level out that you last died in. If you fail to do so it’s gone forever. This is essentially a mini Dark Souls and it’s great.
The art style is sparse, but strangely beautiful. The level design, whilst small, still looks oddly detailed, despite the 8-bit graphical style. The dioramas feature a quite hypnotic parallax effect which works really well in my opinion. Each battle is fairly quick paced, so you will often get little time to stop and appreciate just how cool looking each level is, which is a shame really.
A list of over 30 achievements to unlock and an Arena mode help add some further depth to the game as well.
Bleak Sword is great fun to play and works really well as a game to have a quick go on when you need to burn a few minutes2 in a queue or … when doing something else that rhymes with queue.3 Yet again, this Apple Arcade title is a winner, and well worth some of your time.