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, Goldeneye’s 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, I’d be hard-pressed to name one hitting harder right now than the retro rogue-like.
Centered around the idea of “if you die, there’s no respawning” (or something close to it), these often-procedurally-generated titles reward quick reflexes, memorization of enemy types, and a healthy serving of luck. It’s a packed field, though. While the genre’s boom has brought out some stellar titles, it also means that each new entry needs to do something special to earn its spot in gamers’ libraries. Black Future ‘88 is definitely a fun game, but are its bright lights and bumpin’ 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 there’s one word that sums up Black Future ‘88, it’s energy. The game opens without much preamble or narrative set-up; there’s a crash, and you’ve got to GO GO GO to the top level of a tower and take out everything in your path. Within moments, you’ll 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 you’re looking for a relaxing experience, you’ve come to the wrong place.
As is common in the cyberpunk genre, it’s the future as envisioned by the 80s. While I’ll admit that that particular style of retro-futurism may be a bit overplayed, at least there’s 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 I’ve grown more tired of over the last few years. I do wish there was a bit more variety in the environments and backgrounds, but what’s there (classic urban decay) serves it’s purpose well enough. While the actual characters and tilesets are simple, the lighting and effects are very new, pumping plenty of life and- here’s that word again- energy into every room.
Interestingly enough, a hurried pace isn’t just encouraged by quick beats and flashy lights, it’s central to the game. Taking your time isn’t an option since you’ve only got 18 minutes to live! Why? There really isn’t any time to wonder. This impacts the game in a few ways. First, and most obviously, you won’t want to sit and stare too long in any room. Taking out enemies quickly is the name of the game, and sometimes it’ll be better just to rush past them altogether. Furthermore, you’re 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, you’ll have to weigh losing time vs potential upgrades. In fact, at said shops, you’ll sometimes even be able to spend time as currency, making to pro/con decisions all the more challenging.
Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.
As you’d hope it would in a fast-paced game like this, combat is fluid and fun. As you play you’ll 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. You’ll 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 don’t 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 it’s 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 isn’t a ton of environmental variety.