Black Paradox is a Side Scrolling Shoot-em-up massively influenced by all things ’80s, made by Fantastico Studio. The title comes from the name of your character, a time-travelling space gallivanting bounty hunter who must hunt down the seven leaders of the criminal organisation known as the Hellraisers. The gameplay is fast and frenetic, borrowing from a lot of classic games such as R-Zone and Gradius, two powerhouses of the side-scrolling shooting nature.
This game does one thing (in quite a few varieties) and does it brilliantly, shooting. It’s incredibly easy to control and feels fluid and just about responsive enough to get used to manoeuvring your little Star Phoenix ship between a plethora of gunfire. There is an underlying plot about your character collecting bounties by killing off some weird and wacky characters who are up to no good in space, but in all honesty, it doesn’t really matter, it’s just there for context. There’s no real depth to any of the characters but their designs are cool enough.
If you’re looking for a narrative-driven indie tearjerker this isn’t it, instead, it’s one of the most fun games I’ve played this year. It has non-stop breakneck action that will test your ability to not blink for long periods.
You start off as a very basic ship in the form of a Delorean, a delightfully overt reference for classic sci-fi fans. You initially start with no ‘chips’, upgrades you can apply to your ship that can change a vast multitude of aspects from things such as movement speed (highly recommended due to a pretty stiff feeling beginning) to a vampire chip that converts damage into health. In fact, the only thing you start off with is your Black Paradox superpower which spawns a double of your ship, the Star Phoenix, to cause some mayhem. When you get deeper into Black Paradox though, it opens up a huge array of upgrades and every time I play I seem to find another one I haven’t yet seen.
The goal is to take on all 7 bounties in one life, yes modern gamers, a single life. As you play and die, (which you will do, a lot) you gain and keep credits to buy upgrades – as you would in a Roguelike game. The problem, however, is that you have very little choice in how you can upgrade your ship. The chips that you spend credits on are cycled, meaning they’re never the same each time you visit the garage, or as I like to call, the chip shop (tee hee). At first, any chip will do, just so you start to feel some kind of difference in your ship.
There are some really strange upgrades that just aren’t worth spending credits on, including things like “1% chance of firing backwards”. This random aspect to the upgrade system is very confusing and would have been better off just allowing the player to have the freedom in progressing how they want. The counter to this is a ‘shuffle’ system that allows you to alternate what the shop is selling. Again though, this comes at a cost of 1000 credits, which costs more than the bounty you earn from the first boss, so it’s not exactly cheap.
It all rather feels like an attempt at making the game last longer, but it really doesn’t need to do that. Thankfully, there is a storage space in your garage where you can keep those hard-earned chips so you can chop and change them in subsequent runs. This not only gives you a choice of a variety of abilities but also gives you multiple ways of playing, to finally beat those later bosses. That being said, I would highly recommend repeatedly grinding the first level and saving up a bunch of credits to buy some of the higher level chips.
That’s really your only choice when it comes to upgrades; do you spend big on one super chip, or a little on lots, giving you more options in more situations.
While the path to success in Black Paradox is a massive grind, thankfully it rarely feels that way. This is in no small part due to the fact the levels are procedurally generated. There are dozens of enemy varieties to battle and a museum of weapon pickups-which you can hold two of at any one time – meaning that each play-through feels different whilst maintaining a similar difficulty. On top of that, defeat a boss and you are given the option of another little helper. This is often in the form of a drone that can either protect you or inflict various types of damage to the enemy ships, which I found to be very helpful.
As with the chips though, weapons pickups range from seriously overpowered to frankly pointless. It’s almost like they’re there to suit a certain play-style, but with how manic the action is, you’re pretty much forced into playing the distant and safe game. Therefore, weapons such as the shotgun and the flamethrower are a massive no-go for me, although someone else might find some usefulness in them. You can’t run out of ammunition with special weapons though, which is a welcome addition.
What makes Black Paradox great is how the game feels when you’ve got that balance right in your ship and have a weapon you’re comfortable with. It’s worth those hours of chipping (pun not intended) away for upgrade chips because when it finally clicks, it is very satisfying. Pulling off sudden dodges and weapon switches, with all of that chaos surrounding you, feels fantastic. There is a pretty steep learning curve that you will have to surpass and the game definitely falls into the category of one of those, easy to pick up, hard to master games which were a staple of the ’80s. For trophy hunters like me, the grind will definitely be worthwhile as there is a shiny platinum up for grabs and a decent size trophy list. There are also a couple of secrets that I won’t spoil including an awesome boss fight and a new game mode.
The nostalgia feeling is ingrained in the DNA of Black Paradox. Not only does the gameplay elicit nothing but strong old-school vibes, but the sound design is wonderful and really enforces the 80s theme of the game. There’s a synthwave soundtrack that encompasses your epic battles and feels extremely fitting with the sci-fi elements of the space setting and flying Delorean-like space ship. The sound effects are also a treat, with old-school ‘pews’ and other satisfyingly retro ear-pleasers, upping the intensity dramatically. Couple this with the use of controller vibration and you feel the carnage that is engulfing the screen and your ship.
The visual aesthetic is almost equally as awesome as the sound. The screen is bombarded with an eclectic mix of weaponry firing out from lots of enemy AI ship variants. Despite using a pixel art style, even on a standard PS4, the colours are beautiful and a nice treat for the eyes. There’s an array of vibrant and bold colours against backdrops that are simple in design but effectively pretty. There’s not much variation in the background but realistically you don’t get to pay much attention to it with all that action at the forefront, so it’s not a big problem.
There is a massive sense of “one more go” to this game where you can’t help but want to one-up yourself. It can be a pretty good controller passer game, where you could always challenge one another to beat your progress in a single life. Personally, I would have loved to see a scoreboard system, this would definitely increase the replayability-factor a little bit more, but it’s not too much of a loss. Of course, if you can’t beat your partner though, you can join them! The game supports two player couch co-op, an always welcome addition allowing more people to experience the madly addictive gameplay and doubling the fun.
I’m having an absolute blast with Black Paradox. I keep coming back to it as there’s just so much more fun for me to have in this retro-futuristic world. The Roguelike gameplay is addictive and for every death I experience, I feel pumped to just try that little bit harder. It’s so ’80s it hurts and I absolutely love that about it. Is it the best game ever made? No, of course not but that’s not what it’s trying to be. Instead, it’s a beautiful homage to the classic arcade days, made even better when you bring along a friend to shoot up all of those evil space baddies. The frustrating progression system holds it back from being the best side-scroller shooter I’ve ever played but it’s certainly one of the most fun.
**As of right now, the game appears to be missing on the PSN store. I’ve reached out to the Publisher and Developer for an update on this. It’s still available on the Steam, Switch and Xbox store though.**