By Jason Quinn / February 7th, 2020
|Title||Black Future ’88
|Publisher||Good Shepherd Entertainment, Surefire.Games|
|Release Date||November 21st, 2019|
|Genre||rogue-like, Action, Platformer|
|Platform||PC, Nintendo Switch|
Black Future ’88 is a rogue-like styled action platformer. The setting of the game is a perpetual 1988, so naturally, things aren’t looking too good. Nuclear bombs dropped by a man named Duncan ravaged the Earth and now the world is covered in perpetual darkness. Because of this, lives aren’t measured in years, weeks, or even months, but minutes. You decide to brave Duncan’s tower to try to put an end to the constant nuclear fire.
You have 18 minutes to get to the top of the tower, which doesn’t seem like much time at all. However this game is both very short and very difficult, so you’re gonna spend a lot more than 18 minutes on this game. Starting out, you have a choice of only two characters with marginally different play styles. You do unlock more characters, but your character selection only really affects how you play the game in the very beginning, or basically the first 5 minutes. As soon as you start finding new weapons, it can start playing very differently.
The basic structure of the game is jumping, shooting, slashing, and running through rooms until you reach the boss of the sector you’re in. The game is kind enough to point you in the exact direction the boss is, so you can go directly to it if you so choose. However, you could be missing out on lots of fantastic upgrades or new weapons. With an 18 minute deadline, you might think you should waste as little of that as possible. With how fast you can explore areas, and a robust fast travel system, it doesn’t take much time at all to go out of your way, and is often rewarding.
In each area, you fight your way through hordes of enemies, collecting valuable money they drop. Then you hunt out item shops in the hopes of acquiring more health, more ammo, a new weapon, maybe even a passive upgrade. You don’t want to spend too much money though, as most of this stuff can also be dropped by enemies. An interesting aspect of the game is how Skymelt works. It’s basically the collective AI that you’re fighting against. As you destroy enemies, if you don’t pick up the money they drop quickly, that will go towards upgrading Skymelt. This results in tougher, more numerous enemies, special hunters sent out specifically to kill you, and tougher boss fights. So its very important to be thorough when mopping up enemies.
One of the more unique aspects of this game is how the right combination of passive upgrade and a certain weapon can give you a whole new, significantly improved weapon. For example, an upgrade that causes your dash to do damage to enemies in combination with a “night” weapon, a weapon that causes you and the enemy to switch places, results in a much stronger version of that weapon. Personally, I’d always try to get this combination whenever possible, as it seemed so much stronger than anything else. It could even take out multiple enemies at once if they were close to each other. It was able to destroy boss fights in seconds. I’m sure there’s other combinations that are just as effective, but as soon as I got this one, I just started blazing through the game.
Making you feel overpowered is kind of a trick the game likes to pull though. Getting a really strong setup in the early game should be your goal, as once you get a couple bosses in, it won’t be pulling its punches. Enemies get exponentially tougher, and being careless can result in quick deaths. The constant timer wants you to rush and make mistakes, but you need to find a good middle ground of being quick but not careless. Time itself is a resource, and is one that can be spent in the purchase of items as well. Or you can purchase time with your own health. Managing time is the key to this game on top of everything else.
The boss fights are a highlight of this game. They’re fun and engaging, and occasionally overwhelming. Their attack patterns are kept relatively simple, with the game being on a constant global timer, and dealing with things quickly being the whole idea. It doesn’t take too long to learn how to deal with a boss, but that doesn’t mean none of them are tricky. These fights are why it can be worthwhile in the long run to go out of your way to find new weapons. A strong weapon can mean the difference between a fight taking a minute and a fight taking 20 seconds, and seconds are precious.
An interesting design choice of this game is the fact that aiming isn’t something you actually need to do. You can if you want, but simply pressing the shoot button will cause you to target the closest enemy, and the auto targeting is extremely reliable. This means that you can devote most of your focus to just dodging attacks. With a very responsive dash that even cancels out enemy bullets, you’re more than equipped to not get hit. Defeating bosses even lets you upgrade your dash in various ways. You can get an extra dash charge, allowing you to dash multiple times in succession. There’s also upgrades to make you dash further, or the ability to heal by dashing through enemy projectiles.
When you inevitably die, its not like you don’t get anything for your troubles. You gain experience and level up depending on how well you did. Leveling up gives you access to new weapons and upgrades, which should make your journey a little easier. You can also unlock new characters that might fit your playstyle a little better. My personal favorite character has an ability to slow down time, and has a higher chance of finding better weapons.
Visually, the game is a treat, having good looking sprite art and a strong 80’s neon aesthetic. I’m sure there’s more accurate, artistically savvy descriptors for this, but if you look at the game in motion, its really quite something. So much so it can almost be distracting. When there’s a lot of stuff happening on screen, it can be very easy to lose track of your rather diminutive character among all the gorgeous lighting. As much as this game’s visuals are a treat for the eyes, the soundtrack is a treat for the ears, with plenty of synth beats to accompany that fast and frantic action.
Black Future ’88 surprised me quite a bit. It’s a very rewarding and addicting game, and you’ll catch yourself saying “just one more run” every time you die. Its short length and fast pace makes it very conducive to replaying, and unlike some rogue-likes, it’s fun to play pretty much immediately. Even in a genre where a game like Dead Cells stands tall, this can certainly stand on its own merits. If you like rogue-likes and platforming action games even a little bit, this is an easy recommendation. It’s $20 on Steam and the Nintendo Switch eShop, and even though a successful run lasts 18 minutes or less, you can easily sink 10+ hours into it.
Review copy was provided by the publisher.
ActionBlack Future '88Good Shepherd EntertainmentPCplatformerrogue-likeSuperscarysnakesSurefire GamesSwitch