Black Paradox is an upcoming indie side-scrolling shoot 'em up currently in development at Fantastico Studio. The game made its way to Steam Early Access last month.
In the game players play as Black Paradox, a fierce bounty hunter, and defeat the biggest criminal organization in space, The Hellraisers, and its 7 leaders.
Black Paradox is said to be a mix of old-school shoot 'em up elements and roguelite mechanics. The game features 7 levels and each of them are full of randomly generated enemy waves and hazards, creating a hardcore and fun experience.
The gameplay is best described as a modern, horizontal and roguelite take on the all-time classic Raptor: Call of the Shadows, which released in 1994. The game features many of the same qualities and combines it with space environments rendered in fresh retro pixel art graphics complemented with modern lighting effects.
At its core, gameplay is basic, but this is also where the game shines. Players essentially control a space ship that can fire two weapons. As players advance through levels they can find at least 15 different weapons to equip in one of the two available slots.
In addition, a unique ability labeled "Black Paradox" is available when players fill up the ability meter. Activating this ability spawns an NPC that helps them take out enemies. This ability makes you feel like you're temporarily playing in co-op with a bot. The NPC has a smaller health pool and because of this typically stays around for 10 to 20 seconds.
Players also have the ability to pick up random drones that will fly around their space ship. These drones are said to be little helpers that pack a lot of punch, with more coming with future updates. However, all of the drones we came across seemed lacking and not worth picking over weapons.
As players play through the game they will face 7 deadly bosses, each featuring unique attacks and a unique set of behaviors. These bosses seem to be well-designed, each filling a different niche.
However, because progress towards these bosses resets every time you die experiencing all of them is difficult for novice players. This is true to the roguelite genre, but can also be considered to hinder player progression. A boss bounty selection option would fix this issue entirely, but adding different game modes is still on the table.
Personally, I would love to see bounty selection being added, as it would allow novice players to experience more. In true roguelite fashion, you lose your collected weapons and the aforementioned boss progression on death. This means you face the first boss pretty much every time if you have little experience playing scrolling shooters with the only option to learn and improve your game, which is difficult with the game's current balancing.
The space ship upgrade system seems to try to address this issue, but due to the relatively low number of changeable statistics this system is lackluster. Upgrading equipment is a good feature to have, and it definitely has a place within the game, but it needs to have a substantial amount of depth and content to be worthwhile and in its current state this is not the case.
The 7 bosses are spread throughout the game with randomly generated levels in between. In this case, randomly generated means different type of enemy waves every time you play. While in theory this is a nice feature to have, as it increases replayability, the reality is that balancing this is difficult.
Sometimes these randomly generated waves of enemies will kill you in seconds, while other times you can easily make it to the next level without breaking a sweat. Currently, a difficulty slider and randomize slider definitely seem to be a necessity rather than a nice feature to have.
Balancing issues don't just exist with randomly generated enemy waves, they also appear with weapons and power-up drops. Sometimes you'll come across a health regeneration power up early on, rendering the item useless, while other times you'll desperately wait for better weapons to drop and ultimately never see any.
In addition, some of the weapons are greatly over-powered when compared to others. While differences definitely should exist to keep things interesting, the minimum and maximum amount of damage output when comparing these weapons seems off.
Despite these issues, gameplay is entertaining, especially for those who love the scrolling shooter genre. Balancing is something the studio is still actively working on, so this may be resolved once the final version is out.
Graphics and sound
The pixel art graphics featured in the game are detailed and awesome to look at. In this case screenshots really don't do it justice because they can't convey the animation and lighting that turns them to life. This is especially the case with some of the weapons, like the railgun and rocket launcher.
The soundtrack is alright for what it tries to convey, but soundtrack variation is average and after two hours with the game you can easily get annoyed by it. Hopefully the full retail release will contain more tracks to diversify the ensemble.
Black Paradox is an interesting take on the classic scrolling shooter genre. Its simplistic and intuitive gameplay allow for ease of access and its graphics are interesting enough to set it apart from others in the genre.
However, player progression and balancing still needs tweaking to get it right. That being said, the work Fantastico Studio has put in the game thus far speaks for itself. For this reason alone it is worth supporting during its Early Access development phase, especially if you are really into the scrolling shooter genre.
The game is currently available via Steam Early Access. It will also be making its way to the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch.