In the mood for an 80’s aesthetic, side scrolling shoot ’em up with roguelike elements? If so you may want to take a look at Black Paradox from developer Fantastico Studio and publisher Digerati that is out now across all of the current major platforms. It’s a fast paced new entry in the genre that gets a lot of things right and a couple things wrong.
If you’re wondering where the name of the game comes from you’ll have your answer pretty much as soon as you start playing. Black Paradox is the name of the bounty hunter you play as in the game but I’m going to call him BP for short. BP drives a fancy looking ship and is on a mission to hunt down the Hellraisers, a criminal organization led by seven lieutenants. The plot is pretty light but I don’t usually look for that in a game in this genre anyway. What’s really important to me in a shmup is how it controls and how it feels to play. I’m pleased to confirm that Black Paradox does both of these exceptionally well. Movement and shooting in Black Paradox feel fast and responsive so no complaints there.
You have one life to live in this game and seven levels to make it through. That sounds tough and it very well can be but there are ways to make your mission easier. Your starting ship is pretty weak but you can upgrade it over time with chips. Chips increase stats of your ships and give you other different abilities as well. The thing is you don’t start with any so you’ll have to earn some money first so that you can head to the garage and buy some. Once you’ve managed to beat a level and earned some cash the garage should be your next stop. Here you’ll find random chips on sale to pick from. Some are better than others and some just aren’t worth buying at all. If you don’t see anything you want you can leave as the stock will change when you visit again. However I feel like the in-game economy is a little unbalanced and this leads to the game feeling like a huge grind in order to start getting meaningful upgrades. I feel it’s a tad unbalanced because the amount of money you get from levels is small when compared to how much these chips and their upgrades cost. The game is fun to play which helps with the grind but I would’ve liked to either see these prices a bit lower or the money payouts increased.
With this game having roguelike elements that means that every level is randomized and every enemy pattern is always different. This presents new challenges for people who are used to things being a bit different in this genre. Instead of trying to learn enemy patterns, now you’ll have to learn about the enemies themselves and how they attack you. There are over 60 different enemies in total each with their own pattern so it won’t be easy to remember them all just like that. Defeating enemies is how you obtain new weapons and you can hold two at any given time and switch between them. Because the weapon drops are also random though there were times where I ended up with weapons that weren’t to my liking such as a shotgun. Having this happen can be your undoing and cause your current run to end in failure. You are equipped with a super weapon though that just so happens to also be called the Black Paradox. This ability spawns a dark copy of your ship with random weapons and is controlled by an AI that unleashes a short barrage on your foes. Personally I didn’t feel like this was that powerful of an ability and it takes quite awhile for it to charge up. Finally every level ends in a challenging boss fight and overcoming this will get you two power ups such as various drones that will aid you.
Should you die at any point you’ll have to start your seven level run over from the start and you lose everything except your money. It took me hours to beat all seven levels as I had to grind for awhile to upgrade my ship. I also want to mention that Black Paradox supports co-op play so if you have a friend to hand another controller to they can join you on your bounty hunt which is pretty fun and helps make the grind a bit easier to deal with.
When it comes to art and sound Black Paradox has both of these in spades. The 16 bit pixel art aesthetic in this game is very pleasing with lots of bright, vivid colors. Filling up the screen with weapon fire and explosions never didn’t look great. The sound design likewise I was very pleased with. The synth-wave soundtrack in Black Paradox really hammers home that 80’s nostalgia and fits perfectly with the sci-fi setting. All of the weapon fire sounded pretty good too. There are 19 trophies in the game including a shiny Platinum. For the most part the list should be pretty easy for anyone that is used to playing shmups.
Black Paradox is a shmup that looks great, sounds great, and plays great but doesn’t reward great. The roguelike elements can really feel unfair when you get stuck with useless weapons and the grind to increase your ships abilities feels a bit unbalanced. It’s a good thing that I found the gameplay to be so fun and addictive though as it kept me playing despite those concerns. If you’re a shmup fan and want one that has a rad 80’s aesthetic, soundtrack, and is a little bit different from the rest of the crowd, consider going on this bounty hunt.
*Black Paradox is out now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC. Reviewed on a PS4 Pro. Review copy provided by the publisher for this review.