Version Tested: PC
Also available on: GNU/Linux, Mac OS
Developer: FiolaSoft Studio
Publisher: FiolaSoft Studio
Genre: 2D sci-fi platform game
It is hard for me to precisely describe how I feel about BLACKHOLE. Some immediate descriptors include funny, witty, charming, entertaining….as well as infuriating, frustrating and somewhat sadistic. I truly felt at times that I was being trolled by the developers. The game is billed as a hardcore platformer, and more than delivers on that promise. BLACKHOLE is a niche title aimed at a small group of hardcore players, but for what it is, BLACKHOLE does everything right.
BLACKHOLE takes place in 2121 where the players find themselves the lowest ranking member of the starship Endera. The crew of the spaceship, Captain Jetsen, ATI, Selassie, Nejfake, Smusa and Skelet, and an AI named Auriel, have been tasked with closing black holes that are threatening the existence of earth. And unsurprisingly, you end up playing as the unimportant “coffee guy”, aka the guy who gives the captain coffee. Unfortunately, the ship malfunctions and crashes on Entity, an object resembling a planet. There, the crew ends up separated from each other, with the exception of coffee guy and Auriel. Together, they come up with a plan on how to fix their spaceship, save the survivors of the crew and close the black hole once and for all.
The game is surprisingly well written, characters have strong personalities from the start, and continue to deliver punchline after punchline throughout the game. The ship’s AI Auriel is chimes in frequently in the middle of stages, offering humorously sarcastic encouragement, such as exclaiming “you can make it” after the player dies for the umpteenth time. The ship’s crew still take jabs at you for being the lowly coffee fetcher, despite the player rescuing them. The game also features full voice acting of exceptionally high quality. Watching the cutscenes feels like a satisfying reward for completing a tough level.
Environments in the game are varied and actually feel unique and inspired. It seems like many developers would have settled for a generic setting, or typical themed settings such as the fire world, ice world, etc, but BLACKHOLE delivers much more than that. Each world has specific gameplay elements that fit with the world’s theme, such as lava in the underground caverns and deadly vines in the jungle. The color pallet is pleasing and the simple art is creative and well done. The soundtrack is one of the highlights of the game and fits well with the tone of the game, and helps immerse the player in the environment.
From a gameplay standpoint, the goal of the game is to gather collectibles in order fix the ship. The game is separated into several themed dimensions, each with central hub area with about ten stages to explore, each containing multiple pickups to be collected, and a boss stage in which a crew member is rescued and a critical part for the ship attained.
The game is part puzzle game and part platformer, and requires the player to both figure out how to get to their goal, then reach it without dying horribly. The main mechanic in BLACKHOLE is the ability to change the direction in which gravity acts upon the player. When the player steps on a glowing patch of the level, the entire screen rotates and reorients in a new direction. A simple concept, but one that required some genius level design on the part of the developers. Mechanics such as trampolines, sliding blocks, pulleys, and climbable walls must be combined used with gravity in various orientations in order for the player to progress.
Difficulty is absolutely brutal; timing and controlling jumps requires incredible precision. Collectibles on a given stage are lost when the player dies before exiting the stage, meaning if the player wants all collectibles on a stage, they must collect them all in one go and make it back to the stage exit without dying. It is pointless to try and articulate how difficult this game is. In the few hours I played this game I died more times than I did in every other game I have ever played combined times 10. The critical point here is that the game is not irritating because it is poorly designed, but because it is intentionally made to require loads or practice, skill, and patience. In an era where many games are designed to coddle the players, and adjust to their skill level, BLACKHOLE is a reminder of an time long past, where games were brutally difficult, and progression required true dedication from the player.
This game made me realize that despite having beat hundreds of games over 20 years, I am not hardcore, at least not as hardcore as the people who generally play this genre of game. BLACKHOLE is not a bad game by any means, but it is not a game for the casual masses. For these who wish to test their mettle, BLACKHOLE comes highly recommended.
Purchase Now on Steam for $14.99!
Also Available on GNU/Linux & Mac OS