Developers FiolaSoft Studio made some waves with Blackhole a couple years back on PC, but now the complete edition comes to the PS4 and Xbox One. It's an indie platformer/puzzle game with a serious capacity to deliver an amusing sci-fi tale and crushing gameplay that will challenge any player who steps forward.
The game follows a vibrant cast into a black hole where their fate rests upon the coffee-boy and Auriel the lovably droll A.I. system. Players will be forced to shift gravity to suit their needs and collect parts for the ship as well as saving their missing comrades. This is a hardcore game, so it's far from a trifling task, and the difficulty may be a put off for some players, yet Blackhole still possesses unique gameplay, a few safety measures, and solid pacing to balance the difficulty.
Blackhole is now available for purchase for $14.99 on the PSN store.
Most indie games do not boast amazing stories, but in Blackhole's case, the game has a full cast of voice actors and solid writing to back up the humorous and surprisingly deep tale. The game starts off with a mission to close a black hole and save their planet. The player controls an extraneous crew-member on the ship whose main function is to grab coffee for the captain.
Like any good venture to another dimension, the mission goes haywire, and the black hole sucks in the spaceship. You survive the crash, and your job is to find parts to repair the ship and save the crew members. While it sounds fairly ordinary, you are accompanied by the sarcastic A.I that is constantly narrating parts of the game and tossing out comical interjections. Sometimes she offers useful tips and backstory details, but her dialogue is often just whimsical and sassy for cinematic finesse.
The game does contain a mystery component that adds to the plot. One big piece of the plot finds you unraveling the secrets of "The Entity" itself as well as Auriel's forgotten past. The story is well written and colorful–one thing is certain–love or hate some of the characters, the story is guaranteed to bemuse most players, and is very well composed, especially for an indie game.
This game isn't cavalier in its hardcore labeling. Blackhole is seriously hard, and I know that I always look forward to the platforming side of games more than the puzzle elements, but this game does fully utilize both styles of gameplay. For example, you may need to time jumps and hit the right gravity switches, (which flip the level) but you will often have to do this to complete just one step of a puzzle and continue through the stage. There is a lot of cause and effect to be conscious of, and flipping the gravity the wrong way can bring you to an early death. The game has a very deep attention to detail, and there isn't any jumping or mindless maneuvering. Everything is calculated.
To summarize the gameplay, the player is walking through a giant labyrinth with secret items to collect, puzzles to solve, and levels to enter. The game progresses when you enter a level collect selfburns. Selfburns are an organic lifeform in "The Entity" that has a unique ability to heal your ship. Each level has between about two to six selfburns, and you only need to collect one to open up the next level. This lets players return to the levels later when they feel like taking on the challenge of grabbing extra selfburns. This also allows the game better pacing and grants frustrated players a break. I found this very useful since I often found myself stuck in a level for longer than I anticipated.
The game is broken into six different areas, such as a cave, desert ruins, and an ancient library; each contains about ten levels to complete before saving another crew member and finding a critical part to fix the ship. Upon completing an area, a portal opens that allows you to enter an entirely new set of stages. The differences between the areas are impressive, and each one has interesting puzzles that are specific to that area. For instance, the jungle area utilizes a levee system and moving platforms, while the library has deadly lasers that must be avoided and doors and fuses that must be opened via an electrical gadget.
I must admit that I did retain a love-hate relationship with Blackhole. I loved it more often than I hated it, and my frustrations were always topped by the stimulating puzzles and expansive areas that awaited me, but the game is downright hard, and I had to go on YouTube a few times to figure out how to complete a stage. There were definitely periods of time where I felt just hopelessly stuck, but creative minds will likely get a rush from the well crafted and intricate puzzles. Some of them feel like a virtual chess match against the stage itself since you will need to think about how to switch gravity (which flips the screen) and how interactions with one part of the stage affect your ability to get an orb or access unreached areas which sometimes requires multiple steps.
Dialogue and Control Flaws
There were a couple mechanics that did irritate me and take away from the experience. However minor it seems, you can talk to your characters at certain points if they have something important to tell you. Though a nice break from the gameplay, they often have a few things to tell you, and you need to listen then activate another conversation to hear everything instead of it being one fluid conversation. A quick break can turn into a tedious chore.
There is a ledge hanging mechanic in this Blackhole. Your character is able to hold onto the edge of platforms, which often comes in very handy. However, choosing when I wanted to grab a ledge certainly got in the way at times. Sometimes I just wanted to jump down and found myself hanging on the ledge as precious seconds were lost in making it to a specific point in the stage in time. At other times, you needed to grab onto the ledge to survive but would just fall off the block entirely. To be fair, it isn't hard to grab the ledge, but since you don't need to press any buttons to hang, there were times I had to awkwardly shuffle the left and right buttons to do so.
I must say, for such a vast array of platforming elements incorporated into a game with few buttons needed outside of jumping and walking, this game does a spectacular job of allowing the player to fluidly navigate its rigorous stages. Stuff like using the water to jump to platforms and dodging moving spikes felt smooth, and any error was attributable to my miscalculation rather than the game itself.
Blackhole does have a few safeguards to make the experience more enjoyable for all gamers. The classic mode offers the intended challenge by the developers. In this mode, you cannot keep orbs in a level if you die without returning to the beginning and exiting first; there is little to help you succeed outside of your own judgment and patience. However, there is an adventure mode that allows selfburns to be saved more easily, and you can choose just how much story you want to hear. Full story is the whole package, while minimal story allows you to focus on the gameplay.
Even in the game, the developers did a great job of placing the player in the frying pan but allowing them to breathe before turning up the heat. Only one selfburn is required to continue, and there is often one selfburn that is far easier to acquire than the others. Levels can be replayed, and the menu brings up a very handy teleport feature that instantly takes you back to any previously entered level.
Visuals and Sound
FiolaSoft Studio left no gaps in the quality of this game's artistic side. The graphics are simply an amazing 2D spectacle: every screen, background, and stage is just crawling with delightful details. The level design is brimming with sparkling textures and moving elements, and colossal backgrounds such as distant caves and dilapidated structures really accentuate the alternate dimension and bring it to life. On top of that, each obstacle, platform, and element in the level is highly detailed, and the colors always manage to grab your eyes and give them an amazing 2D massage–figuratively of course.
The music in this game may go unnoticed, but it's excellent. The soundtrack always feels natural for the setting, and due to the complex nature of "The Entity", the music changes from ambient synths to jagged electronic beats and even jungle rhythms that wouldn't feel out of place in a Donkey Kong game.
As wondrous and diverse as the soundtrack is, it does take a backseat to the voice acting. I was surprised that this game was fully voiced over, and it's very well acted. The characters all stand out despite essentially looking like clones, and each character adds some comic flavor to the whacky plot. Best of all is Auriel who is constantly be insulting the crew and cheering on the lovable hero.
This game has a unique artistic vision that never misses a beat. It's one of the best looking 2D platformers I have ever seen, and the voice acting brings the game to the next level in its story telling ability. It's rare that an indie title sees this much attention, care, and personality, but Blackhole's story and gameplay are greatly assisted by the beauty and love found in each pixel and sound effect.
Blackhole is truly a special game in the midst of an indie-game ocean. It's well crafted, and no detail is looked over. It feels fully polished, and the complete edition has all the currently available content including DLC. This game offers many hours of gameplay, and it's fun to play for a few minutes or a few hours.
I will be the first to admit that I am a bit tired of modern games trying to emulate the difficulty of older games, but Blackhole never feels like it wants to rip out your soul for no other reason than to make you rage quit. The game rewards patient players who problem solve and use good foresight and logic, and nothing is unfair. Even when I was angry at the game, I still enjoyed it and wanted to continue, especially since the game has a lot of exploration and finding only one orb allows you to continue on in the game, so I was rarely bogged down with only one option.
I think this is a truly standout title, and it's definitely one of the best modern 2-D platformers. It isn't for everybody, but the game is just way too hilarious and well thought out to be missed by fans of either genre. The story may come off campy, but it's a wonderful sci-fi comedy and it's absolutely endearing. With all the added content, this game is definitely worth your money and time.
|+ Puzzles and platforming are well represented||– Difficulty can be frustrating|
|+ Well written and hilarious dialogue||– Ledge hanging felt sporadic|
|+ Visuals are glossy and detailed|
|+ Doesn't feel like any other game|