Black holes by their very nature may prevent radiation and matter from escaping their gravitational grasp, but if there’s one thing that oozes freely from FiolaSoft Studios’ space age platformer, it is humour. Having already survived three rotations round the sun since its initial release in 2014, this complete edition of Blackhole still manages to boldly go further than others like it in the genre.
Set in the year 2121, Blackhole introduces us to the endearing crew of the starship Endura. Tasked with defending the Earth from intergalactic threats, this tight-knit team of affable astronauts are faced with their greatest challenge yet when their ship gets trapped inside the very black hole they had been trying to seal. Stranded on a bizarre world that seems hell bent on keeping them grounded, the astronauts must now rely on the lowest ranking member of their crew if they are to make it home to their families.
Players are put in the gravitationally challenged boots of the Endura’s chief coffee brewer, a crew member who lacks the knowledge and skill to survive on his own. Thankfully, he is assisted by the ship’s sarcastic, often nihilistic A.I. Aluria, who guides him around the alien environment known only as “the entity.” Together, they must solve the mysteries of this world, while seeking out nanobots, ship parts and surviving crew members hidden across levels of varying difficult, each more puzzling than the last.
Blackhole features a surprisingly dense story, complete with well written dialogue and moments of genuinely intelligent wit, a rarity for a game of the puzzle platform genre. While similar titles would keep plot elements reserved for opening and closing cut-scenes, this game revels in its storytelling ability by constantly touching base with its engaging, fully-voiced characters and using any given opportunity to push proceedings forward. This is just one of the many ways in which Blackhole keeps players engaged with the gameplay.
Juxtaposed with the impressive storyline are game mechanics that make Blackhole an easy game to get sucked into. Spread across six acts are over seventy puzzling levels designed to put both reactions and intelligence to the test. Players are tasked with collecting nanobot-infused “selfburn” collectables that are scattered around each level. Often, these selfburns are located near environmental hazards that kill instantly when touched, while others are in hard to reach corners of the level that at first glance are impossible to reach. If only there was a way to manipulate the environment to your advantage.
Blackhole’s core mechanic relies on the altering of gravity. In practice, this involves jumping on glowing ledges that will flip the room around on its axis and give the player access to previously unobtainable items. As you delve deeper into the entity, this gravitational sequencing grows ever more complex, forcing the player experiment as much as possible in order to shift the room around in a specific order and grab all the selfburns on offer. Throw some pools of lava, moving platforms and alien life forms into the mix and you’ve got the recipe for a game that’s as frustrating as it is engaging.
Thankfully, the game gives you the ability to respawn at the push of a button, meaning that death is not the end when trying to figure out the increasingly difficult puzzles on offer. While some levels in theory can be completed in under a minute, showing your working out and deciphering the mind-bending mysteries within each one can quickly become an infuriating process. On top of that, the game also includes a number of suicide run missions that test your jumping reactions against some of the game’s trickiest environmental hazards all while getting your heart rate racing at the same time. Regardless of the level’s style however, nothing is more satisfying than completing a particularly tricky level, making Blackhole one of those rare gems that you can lose patience with easily, yet cannot put down.
If the gameplay wasn’t punishing enough, each level also contains a time trial element that, while not necessary for beating the game, adds an extra element of competition to the game. Upon completion, your time will be added to the global leaderboards, allowing you to compare scores with friends and other players on the PlayStation Network. Conversely, if you’re more interested in the story than the arcade style gameplay, the option is also there to collect the bare minimum of items in order to progress. In that respect, Blackhole can satisfy everyone from casual players looking for a quick platforming fix, to hardcore gamers who have something to prove.
Blackhole’s minimal aesthetics work well alongside the engaging story and addictive gameplay. While there’s little to distract you from focusing on completing the challenges, there’s enough to give this 2D platformer its own unique personality that won’t easily be forgotten by those who play it. Characters and environments draw influence from pulp sci-fi and with a variety of areas to explore in each of the six hub worlds throughout the game, there’s plenty of nods and references scattered throughout to please sci-fi fans and seasoned gamers alike. If there are any criticisms, it is only a few minor gripes such as a few frame rate issues during fast-paced chase sequences or having to wait for a level to reset itself before attempting again. But these are small inconveniences that are easily overlooked given just how tight the rest of the game is on a performance level.
Given that it sets a rather high standard for the 2D puzzle platformer, it’s rather surprising that Blackhole feels just as fresh now as it did back in 2014. For anyone who has played it before, this Complete Edition includes all of the game’s DLC to date, including the Testing Laboratory and Secret of the Entity story expansions, a director’s cut featuring ten new, very tough levels, and a rotational challenge mode that updates levels on a weekly basis and gives players the chance to battle it out for the best times. Overall, these extras make it a worthy addition to your collection whether you’re new to the game or just looking for some fresh challenges from the darkest depths of the black hole.
Overall, this makes Blackhole somewhat paradoxical in nature. On the one hand, the alluring story, minimal graphics and amusing dialogue make this one of the most inviting puzzle platformers on the market. On the other, the frustrating gameplay and difficult challenges may not be for the faint of heart, yet they somehow manage to remain utterly addictive in the process. Just like the real thing, Blackhole sucks you in and does everything in its power to keep you within its grasp.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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