by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
Tears in Rain?
Whether it be fashion, movies, slang, or literature, trends come and go. Video games are certainly no exception. Whether it be the storm of digital card games after Hearthstone broke out onto the scene, Goldeneyeís army of imitators after it showed how a 3D console shooter could work, or the pile of games that might as well be called Kind-of Minecraft. Among all other trends, Iíd be hard-pressed to name one hitting harder right now than the retro rogue-like.
Centered around the idea of ďif you die, thereís no respawningĒ (or something close to it), these often-procedurally-generated titles reward quick reflexes, memorization of enemy types, and a healthy serving of luck. Itís a packed field, though. While the genreís boom has brought out some stellar titles, it also means that each new entry needs to do something special to earn its spot in gamersí libraries. Black Future Ď88 is definitely a fun game, but are its bright lights and bumpiní soundtrack enough to make it stand out, or is it destined to wash out of memory like tears in rain?
A Symphony for the Senses
Energy. If thereís one word that sums up Black Future Ď88, itís energy. The game opens without much preamble or narrative set-up; thereís a crash, and youíve got to GO GO GO to the top level of a tower and take out everything in your path. Within moments, youíll be bombarded with bright neon lights and bathed in the aural waves of some fittingly heavy synth music that makes one thing very clear- if youíre looking for a relaxing experience, youíve come to the wrong place.
As is common in the cyberpunk genre, itís the future as envisioned by the 80s. While Iíll admit that that particular style of retro-futurism may be a bit overplayed, at least thereís an attempt at justification through a narrative point that once the sky went dark in 1988 because of a rogue computer, people just stopped keeping time, so it stayed 1988 forever. Does it make sense? Nope. The presentation absolutely stuck the landing for me, though, and really goes a long way towards elevating what would otherwise be a fairly run-of-the-mill title. The super retro, super pixelated look even works for me, something Iíve grown more tired of over the last few years. I do wish there was a bit more variety in the environments and backgrounds, but whatís there (classic urban decay) serves itís purpose well enough. While the actual characters and tilesets are simple, the lighting and effects are very new, pumping plenty of life and- hereís that word again- energy into every room.
Interestingly enough, a hurried pace isnít just encouraged by quick beats and flashy lights, itís central to the game. Taking your time isnít an option since youíve only got 18 minutes to live! Why? There really isnít any time to wonder. This impacts the game in a few ways. First, and most obviously, you wonít want to sit and stare too long in any room. Taking out enemies quickly is the name of the game, and sometimes itíll be better just to rush past them altogether. Furthermore, youíre not going to have time to explore every room. The mini-map will hint where you can find certain special rooms (like shops), but, with time ticking, youíll have to weigh losing time vs potential upgrades. In fact, at said shops, youíll sometimes even be able to spend time as currency, making to pro/con decisions all the more challenging.
Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.
As youíd hope it would in a fast-paced game like this, combat is fluid and fun. As you play youíll unlock access to new characters that come with unique perks, new upgrades, and new weapons that will become available for selection/purchase in subsequent playthroughs. Youíll also be able to pick up equipment and resources that drop from enemies and bosses, but you can only take two weapons with you at a time. Furthermore, what you donít take can end up impacting your success just as much as what you do. Skymelt tower actually absorbs currency and equipment left of the ground and will use it to buff defenses, meaning itís usually worth those few extra moments to collect dropped cash (or the credits to upgrade the distance at which resources will be collected by your character).
Great soundtrack, fun weapons and perks, flashy visuals.
While the visuals are pretty, there isnít a ton of environmental variety.