Being of a certain age, I always get a kick out of media that calls back to the neon soaked days of the 80s. There’s something about the specific use of these loud, garish tones that immediately catches my interest. It evokes a sense that whatever is about to happen is likely to be as mad as it is simple, yet fun. Black Paradox takes this ethos and runs with it – an incredibly hectic rogue-lite bullet hell shooter that is tough as old boots, yet also nails that one more go feeling perfectly. Though, there’s not much more to it than that.
Played either solo or co-op, your sole job is to survive long enough to catch various bounties for cold hard cash. Piloting your familiar looking spacecraft (only 80s Kid’s will recognize this new game’s playable character), you’ll need to shoot and dodge your way through waves of enemies in order to reach these bounties, who act as end of stage bosses. Enemy timings and patterns are randomized at the start of each run, as is the case with rogue-lites generally, though each variety of foe follows a predictable attack pattern to at least give you a slight leg up. Only slight, mind.
Black Paradox is a hard game. Runs are measured in minutes, not hours. Early plays will barely even break the minute mark. There’s no easing in here, often the screen will be full of foes and bullets as soon as you are given control. You’ve got a life bar here, but early on you can only withstand a few hits before exploding into the universe. At least it looks pretty. Well, best start again. After reaching double digit restarts in less than half an hour, I feared things would soon get tedious. And yet. I could not stop playing. The moment to moment gameplay is masterfully executed.
Your ship is snappy to respond, with a decent fire rate even for your base gun keeping you in with a chance of defending yourself. Even in truly hectic moments, it rarely feels as though you couldn’t have gotten out of danger if only you’d reacted quicker or had 10 eyes to keep track of what’s going on. There’s a constant barrage of ships or other obstacles to destroy, but while hard, keeps things moving and interesting. About halfway through each stage, a powerful ship will appear that once beaten will drop new weapons for you to pick up and use.
These, as well as rewards for defeating bosses, are also randomized, leading to a pot luck affair. Thankfully, most of them are satisfying to use. Though, on occasion I found that I may as well restart if one of a few weapons appeared; the admittedly powerful grenade launcher rendered next to useless due to its slow speed for example. Get something like the Tesla launcher though, and enemies will vaporize in a shower of beautifully drawn pixel sparks, with any nearby ships taking splash damage. Each weapon has their own best-use scenarios of course, with your ship able to hold 2 at once.
Switching back and forth is a simple button press away, and experimenting with combos can lead to some devastating screen filling effects. Your ship can be upgraded too, thankfully. Each defeated enemy awards some credits which can be spent at the in-game shop at the end of a run. Each upgrade will grant some weak bonuses like having a 1% chance of recovering some health for killing enemies, as well as some stat boosting effects. As with everything else in Black Paradox, these are randomly generated too, and are the weakest part of the package. See, each visit to the shop only has 2 items for sale. If you fancy something else, you’ll need to pay ever increasing amounts of credits to swap them out for new choices.
Problem is, in a typical run you’ll barely make enough credits to buy an upgrade, let alone waste it on refreshing the selection. Playing a new run will mix them up upon the next visit, but I’d much have preferred a more standard shop in which to purchase upgrades. All upgrades presented are expensive too, as well as the need to unlock more slots on your ship to hold them. It all adds up to taking a tad too long in my eyes to feel like you’re making meaningful progress in giving yourself more of a chance to hunt down these bounties. Actually clearing a bounty will grant you a decent lump of extra credits, but that of course is moot if you can’t actually beat them.
And these guys, as you may expect, are hard. If the regular enemies can fill the screen with their attacks, the bosses make sure there’s not an inch spared if they can help it. The first guy alone handed my ass to me multiple times before I beat him, though even now it’s far from a guarantee. Their attack patterns are wildly aggressive and rapid, with bullets, asteroids and sometimes other ships joining in to make your life hell. The sense of elation in besting one is great, but it does get a little frustrating to finally make it to a new one only to be decimated in seconds and have to start completely afresh.
But it’s here the titular Black Paradox comes in to play. Fill up your special meter by hitting enemies and a quick pull of the triggers brings a support ship, the Black Paradox, to your aid. Packed with super powerful weapons, it can rinse health like nobody’s business, following and attacking whatever you’re aiming at. It only last a few moments, but that is often enough to put a huge dent in whatever is in your way. With so much happening on screen, I did find occasionally I’d lose track of my own ship, but with practice, this soon became much easier to manage.
All this carnage is stunning to look at too. From the aforementioned neon colors, to the brilliantly detailed 2D pixel art, everything pops off the screen. Bright pink, yellow, and blue (and whatever other color you can picture) bullets whiz back and forth, huge spirals of death fizz, and ships explode in gorgeous balls of fire. The intergalactic backgrounds are beautiful hues of reds and purples, with massive planets dwarfing orbiting satellites. Along with a catchy soundtrack, not only is Black Paradox great to play, but also amazing to look at and listen to. Minor frustrations aside, don’t pass this one by.
Rogue-lites are hardly a rare sight these days, but rarely does one catch the eye like this. With its grindy upgrade system and a few minor issues aside, the game consistently bombards its players with fast and frantic play that’s utterly engaging and constantly rewarding. It helps that the whole ordeal not only looks stunning, but sounds magnificent. Black Paradox, moment to moment, is an absolute blast that should not be overlooked.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.