Developed By: Blacksea
Published By: Digerati
Release Date: 12.24.18
Another Kickstarter success story finds its way to the Nintendo Switch! Blacksea Odyssey was funded in 2016 and released for the PC, then the PS4 and X-Box One, and now with a little help from publisher Digerati it’s made its way to the only console that matters (to this website, anyway). It’s about the greatest hunters in the universe hunting the greatest monsters in space. It mixes some pretty basic twinstick shooter elements with a few new tricks to create a pretty fun experience.
Let the Hunt Begin!
Blacksea Odyssey isn’t really a narrative experience; there are four characters to select (eventually – only one is unlocked by default), but they don’t really differ in any important way. Once you’ve picked your hunter and your spear type, you switch to a hunt selection screen. The character portraits on this screen will trash talk each other, which can be pretty amusing, but that about does it for story. You can get some additional lore-building fixes in the bestiary entries, but that’s about it. Each hunt has a difficulty level and a bounty – the more difficult the enemy, the more points it’s worth. The hunter with the most points after nine rounds of hunting is the champion of the Blacksea Odyssey! Not that deep, but hey, it’s not like that was promised at any point. It’s a decent setup for what the game is, and that’s all you can ask for.
The Basics of Hunting
At its heart, Blacksea Odyssey is a twin stick shooter. You use the left stick to move and the right stick to aim. The right trigger is your basic attack and the left trigger is a chargeable heavy attack. The L and R buttons are for using items, but more on them later. Each level is randomly generated, but the levels are pretty sparsely populated with spiky rock formations. The game is very competently put together; the controls are responsive and intuitive, and don’t take long to pick up at all. Defeated enemies drop money and other items, which is pretty standard, but it is a minor problem area for Blacksea Odyssey. Sometimes the items will scatter into the middle of a rock formation, beyond the reach of your item catch radius, so you can’t gather them up. If you take care to only kill enemies away from the rocks you can avoid this issue, though.
The Hunter’s Arsenal
There are three basic pieces of equipment the hunters use to bag their prey; the spear, the harpoon, and their ship. The spear is the basic attack, while the harpoon is the chargeable heavy attack. Additionally, the harpoon has a rope attached to it, and when you pull it back it can bring pieces of your prey with it. Sometimes you have to damage an enemy a little before you can pull it apart with the harpoon. Anyway, pulling pieces off your prey will disable it in some way, ranging from simply slowing it down to eliminating its offensive capabilities. Your ship does basic movement, and it also has a boost function you can use to evade attacks. The boost is limited by a meter under your health bar, but it regenerates pretty quickly.
The Elephant in the Rune
Your spear and ship can be upgraded with runes found during your hunts. The main bosses usually drop a rune or two, and smaller prey found throughout a level may randomly drop a rune or a key to a treasure chest, which can have runes contained within. Spear runes typically add damage or special effects to your spear attacks, whereas ship runes have a wider range of uses. Ship runes can increase your speed, defense, health regeneration, and the best ones even add automatic attacks; your ship can automatically shoot cannon balls, or generate elemental orbs that damage and push back enemies who bump into it. I love orb runes.
In addition to runes, you can also find one-use items to aid you in your hunt. These items do things ranging from surrounding your ship with a shield, restoring health, increasing speed, increasing damage temporarily, and launching a barrage of cannonballs. The healing items are the most precious to me; restoring lost health is a pain. It doesn’t restore between hunts, unless you have certain spears equipped, so any damage you take is more or less permanent unless you find a healing item. That’s probably the hardest part of the game; restoring health is such a bear. If there were maybe a way to buy health between missions that would be great. You can buy runes and other items between missions, so why not a visit to the doctor’s office to patch up some wounds?
A Hunter’s Senses
Blacksea Odyssey has a pretty cool, simple visual aesthetic. Everything is made of basic shapes, but by utilizing minor variations in color and shade it creates the impression of depth and imbues the various creatures that inhabit the world with a sense of life. The monsters themselves are very well-designed; some are just huge versions of animals like fish or frogs, and some are Lovecraftian monstrosities covered in mouths, eyes, and spikes. The music is a mostly electronic score that gets intense when the fighting is at its fiercest. The voice acting is fairly limited to unintelligible grunts and squeaks, except for the Old Man who growls out some Scandinavian language. I think he says the same thing every time regardless of what the text reads, but I’m not sure.
There are no touch or motion controls in Blacksea Odyssey, so you can really play it docked or undocked as you prefer. Personally, I found the game to be much more comfortable to play with a Pro controller than with the Joycons. The game felt more responsive on a Pro controller as well, but I think that’s down to the Pro’s more ergonomic design more than anything to do with the game itself. Frankly I find that to be the case with any game that requires extensive use of the trigger buttons. So I definitely recommend Blacksea Odyssey for docked play.
TL;DR: Fun, innovative take on the twinstick shooter.