Black Paradox is sweet and to the point. Presenting you with a roadmap of but a measly 7 stages, the game may decieve you to think that it will be short, and in a sense, it is, but it is also deceptively difficult.
The game starts with a very brief tutorial on how to move, pick up weapons, and use your special attack, other than that, it wastes no time throwing you straight into the action. You are Black Paradox, a space bounty hunter flying around in your interstellar Delorean, shooting down hordes of randomly generated enemy ships and asteroids, trying to reach the stage’s where one of 7 very distintive bosses lurk. You move with the analogue stick, shoot by holding down A (and NEVER LETTING GO), pick up new weapons with Y, change between weapons with B, and when your energy meter is full, you call upon temporary help by pushing the ZL and ZR buttons simultanously. Don’t worry, a prompt will hover over you head until you activate it.
One guy? No continues? What were they thinking?
You start off with a standard rapid fire weapon, and will have to deal with that until you shoot down one particular big purple enemy ship, that then drops a blue box with one of 20 random weapons. These range from homing missiles, to a laser, a wave of music notes, a spreadshot, and everything in between, and can quickly turn the tides of the battle. Don’t get carried away though, as getting careless for even a moment can quickly get you killed still, and no matter how far you get, you go all the way back to the very start!
You heard it right: one guy, no continues, no extra lives, what were they thinking?
Hard but… fair?
In all seriousness though, I am actually kind of torn on this. On one hand I would have liked being able to at least earn extra lives, as even the most brutal arcade game back in the 80s, which Black Paradox, judging from its presentation clearly aspires to harken back to, at least gave you 3. There are however occasional health pick-ups in the form of green capsules, so it is not like you only have one life bar and that’s it. Plus, depending on your weapon, you can quickly become a God of destruction. Beating a boss also grants you one of two randomly chosen power-ups, that you keep until you die, kind of like how DownWell handled it.
In other words, the further you make it, and thus, the more extra fire power you pick up, the more fun the game gets. I will be straight with you though, as much as I found this game fun, and kept wanting to try ”just one more time” I am a magnet for bullets, I couldn’t keep out of enemy fire if my life depended on it (reason why you will never see me review a bullet hell). Also keep in mind, that you can only have two different weapons on you at once, and if you pick up a third one, it will replace the one you have currently selected.
Personally, I would have liked weapon pick-ups to be more frequent, seeing as how unforgiving the game is with the amount of enemies, being sent back to start upon death, and only having one life. You basically only pick up one weapon per stage, and seeing how much crap you have to deal with, I think more weapon pick-ups would not only make the game more balanced, but also encourage experimentation with various combinations. Especially with how many badass weapons the game has on offer!
Don’t get me wrong, I am normally not the moany type to complain that a game is too hard, but I think Black Paradox hinges dangerously close to that border. I never made it past the 3rd boss, only beat the 2nd boss once, and only occassionally had a lucky playthrough where I beat the 1st, as upon encountering them, I would likely be down to half my health and be a sitting duck. Should you survive these encounters however, the game is at least gracious enough to refill your health for the next stage.
It should also be noted, that depending on how hardcore the weapon you use, the slower your ship will be as long as you hold down the fire button. Letting go every once in a while to get yourself out of harms way and into a better position, is thus strongly adviced, contrary to what I stated before about never letting go.
A fighting chance
Defeated enemies reward you points, that after death, you can spend on upgrades in your Garage, to perhaps make your next playthrough a bit more pleasant. You have two upgrade slots available to you from the get go, with two more available for purchase. Every time you die, two random chips will then be available for you to buy and install, each increasing your ship’s health, rate of fire, attack power, and speed by a certain amount, as well as granting your ships an addition passive ability, like having a homing missile fire with a 2% chance after every shot fired. The chips’ effects naturally stack, so the more you play, the better chips you will eventually be able to buy, and the beefier and more enduring your ride will eventually become.
If you run out of space and swap one chip for another, spare chips will end up in your storage, so don’t worry about them being gone.
Hard… but… awesome!!
Black Paradox is by no means a bad game, quite the contrary. Even though I never made it all the way to the end, I had a blast with it, and will likely return to it many times in the future, like a kid with a black eye who keeps challenging the school bully despite knowing the end result beforehand, but still has the slight glimmer of hope that next time will be different. It is very hard, but a super fun pick-up and play game, that even a co-pilot can join in on, also making it the perfect game to play on the go for short bursts. On that note, I should also mention that it works just fine in handheld mode.
Though the random weapon drops are still too infrequent in my opinion, one of the things that keep me coming back, is seeing what weapon I will get and getting another chance at becoming better with it, as well as the wonder of what upgrades will be given to me at the end of each stage. Some may dislike the random factor, but in a game like this, I feel it works, it is part of what fuels the replayability. And it is the knowledge that no two playthroughs will be the same, that keeps it interesting, even if I know that I will most likely fail again.
In co-op, defeating the purple weapon-dropping enemy ship will release two weapon boxes instead of just one, though you will have to coordinate who is in most need of upcoming health and energy pick-ups. The game will continue until you are both defeated, and should one player die, if the other has the cunning to defeat the stage boss on their own, the downed player will be resurrected for the next stage.
Throughout your space venture, you will be accompanied by a kickass synth-wave soundtrack of epic 80s proportions that, together with the fantastic artstyle and hectic gameplay, immediately puts you in the mood and gets your blood pumping. I was looking forward to this soundtrack from the trailer alone, and it delivered! Just watch it, you will fall in love too! …no I mean it, go back up and watch, or re-watch it, I will be here when you get back!
Visuals & Performance
Black Paradox is a tribute to the 80s of popculture, and is in no way subtle about it. From the flimsy way the developer logo appears on screen, to the main menu itself, and the epic 80s synth that immediately kicks in and doesn’t let you go again till you put down the controller, Black Paradox knows what it is and wears its retro indentity on its sleeves.
The game presents itself with beautiful pixel graphics. From the huge variety of enemy ship designs, the animations of the various weapons both they and you have at your disposals, to the fatal flash of explosions. The game is brimming with colour, and the ever changing space background too contributes greatly to setting the tone for a love letter to a by gone era.
It’s the little things
Although the ”story” is basically none existing, apart from a very brief opening cutscene of our guy gazing at 7 wanted posters and exclaiming that he will hunt down every last one of them, every stage transition comes with a cool pixel animated scene of your vehicle flying at high speeds to your next target. I love this kind of animation style, it kind of reminded me a bit of Another World and Flashback, and however brief it may be, I thought it was a very cool detail that only further semented the game’s production value.
Even subtle details in the background as shimmering stars and glowing planets is something that makes the game feel alive, and are little details I really appreciate. Anyone can make the surface of a game look good, but to me, it is the finer background details that make the difference. Truth be told, every time I play a game with 3D models, I always check to see if the characters have been animated to blink. Because if the developer couldn’t even care for at detail like that, what else might they have skipped out on?
$14.99/£13.49 may seem like a steep price considering the amount of stages in the game. But there is so much more to Black Paradox than game length. If you are able to overcome and adjust to the fierce challenge ahead, the game has a lot to offer, including a ton of replay value, because you will constantly want to try ”just one more time”, and overall it is just clear from the gameplay and presentation alone that this is a product of quality. They cared.
Gorgeous pixel graphics
Kickass synth soundtrack
No lives or continues
Weapon pick-ups are rare