This title was reviewed on Xbox One, but is also available on PC and PlayStation 4.
Shooters have stood the test of time. Older gamers remember the 16-bit era when they were the cutting edge in visuals; young people can appreciate the shiny new remasters and pure gameplay. Black Paradox embodies these classics and tops it off with a slick 80’s leather jacket.
Hotline Miami arguably kicked off the contemporary trend of neo-noir in gaming, and your mileage may vary depending on how fed up you are with that sort of art style. Black Paradox’s main character even looks like the biker protagonist from the aforementioned.
Retro looks aside, there are some really nice flourishes in the game which elevate the graphics to 21st Century. The action flies by at a rock-solid 60fps at all times, regardless of how much is going on. And that can be quite a lot with all the bullets, fracturing asteroids, and firey explosion effects all over the shop.
Sprites are crisp, which is a lifesaver in the most bullet-filled of hellscapes that the levels throw at you. To top it all off, there’s also a cool VHS scanline effect that gives it a Saturday morning cartoon vibe as well. It’s a graphically strong game, with the only real criticism I can find being some of the repetition of enemy types.
If you were expecting an epic, multi-faceted (can’t think of a cooler word so) epic with many layers of narrative depth… you definitely won’t find it here! And why should you? This is core arcade action. But, in an attempt to set the scene…
You play a space bounty hunter in a tricked-out, spaceflight capable DeLorean, who is out to bust a gang of interstellar outlaws. These mean dudes form the basis of your boss fights throughout the game. You’re also assisted at points by the titular Black Paradox itself – a mirror image of your vehicle, yet with a more moody colour scheme…
Whilst your journey through the cosmos is linear in which bosses and levels you face, the theme of the very first level is randomly generated every time. This takes some edge off the grind, but I wish it was implemented more through the rest of the game.
Black Paradox can be described as many things: side-scrolling shooter, roguelike, bullet hell; Encompassing many elements sometimes doesn’t pay off, but the overall result here is pretty good.
Your SpaceLorean gets a couple of ways to power up through the increasingly difficult stages. You can pick up extra weaponry to assign to your two slots, diversifying your killing potential. In addition to this, you’re issued a more passive upgrade after stomping one of the boss outlaws and they are cumulative; think The Binding of Isaac and the game-modifying effects of the trinkets. You get to choose one of two, which can prompt a lot of head scratching – do you take the missile drone to automatically nuke everything in your path, or the permanent 20% speed boost?
What would a bounty hunter be without the need for cash? Not a very good one! Destroying enemy ships grants credits, with more given for heftier foes. At game over, you’re taken back to the garage to prepare and plan for your next run. Here, you can buy randomly generated plug-ins which boost your stats and also give you some interesting bonus effects such as vampirism (a percentage of damage done heals you) or randomly firing a rocket with a bullet. The better upgrade chips cost heaps of money and can require a lot of grinding to achieve, which can be painful, but you definitely do get a boost worthy of your pennies.
When mixed with the randomness of enemy waves every time you play, there’s an exciting ‘risk and reward’. You may install chips to slowly regenerate health over time, only to be pounded by hard-hitting enemies within the first minute, or boost your odds of firing a triple shot and reap the rewards if (and that’s a big if) you find a heavy-hitter such as a railgun.
The mechanics themselves make every run feel fresh, but I wish there were a few more enemy types and with more diverse designs. A lot of them look like square space utes, which is disappointing when compared to the great design of the rest of the game.
Shooters are arguably elevated with a great soundtrack, and Black Paradox has some awesome tracks. Well, as long as you’re into electronica! The music thumps at the same frenetic pace as the action, and is a really good fit.
Keeping the adrenaline pumping as you hose out the ordnance are the loud, brash sound effects; one thing that’s great about shooters nowadays is the clarity of audio, and the cacophony of explosions that match the distinct sounds of the random weapons. One of my favourite shooters of all time, Gradius V, won me over with a fantastic overall audio package and whilst not quite at that tier, Fantastico Studio should get major credit for their attempt here!
I am a big fan of Black Paradox. It looks and sounds great, is simplistic enough to pick up and play, yet the random elements and risk/reward get their hooks into you and keep things interesting over the longer term. That said, it can be very unforgiving and grindy to build up the strength required to reach the end game but if you aren’t scared of a little challenge and frustration, it’s an explosive romp that I heartily recommend.