Developed By: Drakkar Dev
Published By: Blowfish Studios
Category: Action, Adventure, Arcade
Release Date: 01.20.22
Composers: Ricardo Bellistri, Andrew Silkov
I’m a huge sucker for anything featuring mechs. Blackwind looked like it would be right up my alley in that regard. Unfortunately, the main protagonist is in a battle suit a la Iron Man, not a mech, but since it looks cool as heck I gave it a pass. More promising, however, is that Blackwind manages to combine twin-stick hack’n’shoot action with puzzle platforming in satisfying and unique ways. There are, unfortunately, plenty of warts that accompany the game’s good qualities. Ultimately, however, I think the good outweighs the bad.
What Happened to Medusas 1 Through 41?
Blackwind opens with young James Hawkins is accompanying his scientist father to a mining and research outpost on the planet Medusa 42. When their ship, The Pandora, is shot down, Dr. Hawkins shoves James into an experimental battle suit equipped with an advanced combat AI. Waking up near a mining site overrun by the Raknos, an alien army, James and his new AI best friend desperately try to navigate a warzone to find his missing father – partly because James is a good son, and partly because Dr. Hawkins is the only one that can order the suit to let poor Jimmy out. There are some very telegraphed twists, turns, and betrayals along the way, but it’s overall a solid enough story.
The action is pretty darn satisfying, but has a few ticks that get in the way from time to time. Controls are pretty standard for a twin-stick shooter; move with the left stick, aim with the right. Your basic actions include shooting, melee attacking, jumping, dashing, and using your currently selected special ability. Abilities include missiles, a force field, healing, and an explosive wave. The game features optional and brutal-but-entertaining finishing moves once you’ve dealt enough damage to an enemy. You also have the ability to deploy a small drone, which is mostly used for platforming puzzles. For the most part, the action is smooth enough but it gets frantic and hard to follow when there are lots of enemies with ranged weapons.
There is one other small but annoying problem with the action, however. You can’t shoot when you’re jumping, which is fine, but there are some clipping issues that make it a problem. If you get too close to an item in the stage or the edge of the fighting area, the game will often register you as standing on top of them, which I guess makes it seem like you’re in midair. This stops your firing, and often your movement as well if you’re running around trying to dodge incoming fire. When there are a dozen enemies firing at you simultaneously it’s a problem to stop moving without warning. It’s an especially frustrating issue in the game’s bigger firefights, which are often outdoors, which is where the problem is most pronounced because of the jagged borders of the map.
In addition to the solid combat, Blackwind also aspires to some pretty robust exploration elements. Unfortunately, the game’s fixed camera angles make exploration clunky. I don’t know how to fix this issue because both thumb sticks are needed for aiming and moving, but not being able to move the camera around made exploring the game’s outdoors areas especially uneven, as the angle keeps changing. As the game moves along, you’ll acquire several augmentations to the battle suit’s jumping capabilities. You get a double jump, dash jump, and hover ability, to be more precise. You can jump over gaps or jump up to grab ledges, and both actions are in need of some polish.
Button inputs felt laggy or inconsistent when jumping, meaning double or dash jumps often didn’t execute consistently. Moreover, the game’s ledge-grabbing detection is kind of spotty. I can’t tell you how many times I jumped across a gap to a climbing ledge only to see the character just slide down the wall despite hitting the darn ledge head-on. It’s even more of a shame because the platform puzzle design is very good, especially when the drone ability is integrated into some of the puzzle solutions.
Collect and Build
Despite some warts in the gameplay, defeating enemies and exploring the map offer plenty of rewards. Dead enemies and destroyed crates or other items drop orbs which can be used to purchase upgrades for your weapons, special abilities, or skills. Finding hidden areas will reward you with either new skins or upgrades to the health or special ability bars.
The Audiovisual Divide
Graphically, Blackwind takes advantage of its cool robot and alien designs with decent if unspectacular 3D graphics. Everything runs smoothly enough for the most part, but – again – there is an exception. After fights there is sometimes a short graphical stutter. It’s never during fights, just sometimes right after, so luckily it doesn’t really affect gameplay. The soundtrack features a killer musical score, engaging sound effects, and full voice acting. One of these elements is not as positive as it sounds. My sincerest apologies to the voice cast, but the voice acting is straight-up bad. It’s not early-90s anime dub bad, but it’s close. The performances are rife with Shatner-esque inexplicable pauses without any Shatner-esque charm, confusing emotional tone changes, and/or wooden deliveries.
Fun Despite Its Warts
Look, Blackwind has its problems. There are many aspects of the gameplay that lack fine polish. There’s some weird graphical stuttering that doesn’t really affect anything, but nonetheless it’s there. The voice acting – just oof. But – BUT! – the game underneath those flaws is solid. The combat is intuitive and mostly smooth, the graphics are good enough and also mostly smooth, and the drone ability makes for some pretty cool puzzles. So while it isn’t a flawless experience, Blackwind is nonetheless an enjoyable action game.
Digital/Physical – $24.99
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The Switch Effect was graciously supplied a code for review purposes.