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Bleak Sword DX does brutal, lo-fi Elden Ring, one pixelated square at a time

The Apple Arcade launch title comes to PC and Switch in 2023

Oli Welsh is senior editor, U.K., providing news, analysis, and criticism of film, TV, and games. He has been covering the business & culture of video games for two decades.

Devolver Digital has announced Bleak Sword DX, a minimalist, retro, dark fantasy game coming to Nintendo Switch and Windows PC at some point in 2023. It’s an expanded and refined version of Bleak Sword, which was an early release on the Apple Arcade subscription service back in 2019.

A half-hour demo for Bleak Sword DX is available to try as part of Steam Next Fest from today, Feb. 6.

Download it and you’ll find a compact, brutal little combat game with some basic RPG trappings, presented in stark black and white and red. Your primitive, pixelated swordsman, who looks like he could hail from almost as far back as 1982’s Mazogs, explores a creepy, dark fantasy landscape, one level at a time. Each level is a small, contained square of land, floating like a diorama in a 3D void. Defeat all the enemies that present themselves and you’ll complete the level, level up, maybe collect an item, and move on to the next.

Combat is simple, but refined and challenging: You block, parry, roll and counterattack, always mindful of a fast-draining stamina meter. Dodging fast-moving crowds of enemies with varying attack patterns is the order of the day.

While the extremely bite-sized levels betray the game’s mobile roots, it otherwise feels more comfortable in its new home, especially when it comes to the very crisp and responsive physical controls. Other changes in DX include new attacks and enemy AI; post-processing and depth of field effects that give the simple graphics a richer atmosphere; and three new game modes. DX combines all existing chapters with new level and enemy layouts, Randomizer unpredictably remixes the original game, and Boss Rush does what it says on the tin. The moody music is by Jim Guthrie, composer for Sword & Sworcery, Below, and Nobody Saves the World.

The next level of puzzles.

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