The year is 1988; well, it may as well be as the world stopped keeping track of time after the nuclear fallout. The sun is now blacked out and the only thing left to do is take down Duncan, the mastermind of it all. In Black Future ’88, you’ll make your way up a procedurally-generated tower to put an end to Duncan’s reign of terror.
Black Future ’88 is certainly a challenging game, one that will test even the most experienced players. You’re going to want precision when playing through this game, which is why I would wholeheartedly recommend playing this game in docked mode with a dedicated controller (preferably a Pro Controller).
The core concept of the gameplay stems from you proceeding through a tower, defeating enemies and equipping new buffs and stronger weapons. Some of these buffs act as curses, meaning that they give you high bonuses but come at a steep price (e.g. reducing your max health, etc.).
The gameplay is addictive, always wanting you to go just one more time to see if you can do better. While it may seem like a cheap way out, the addition of an Assist Mode certainly makes the game appeal to a wider audience. This mode decreases certain damage types, the ability to slow down time with ZL and removes addiction and curse mechanics. The game initially discourages the use of the Assist Mode as “the difficulty of Black Future ’88 is an important part of the experience, but individual skill shouldn’t limit a person’s ability to enjoy it”; this is a fantastic way to put the Assist Mode into words and it is certainly encouraged for those who are struggling and not enjoying themselves. The game could’ve done a better job at making the Assist Mode more apparent to the player, but it’s understandable that the developers may have wanted to challenge them before choosing an easy assist mode from the get-go.
Throughout the game pre-launch, there were some noticeable frame-rate dips when there was a lot happening on screen at once. It often lead me to taking damage, feeling crucially unfair. I also experienced frequent glitches during boss fights, most notably against Duncan, where they would be thrown off screen and wouldn’t attack me. The screen would oddly zoom in and I would fire in a direction that I think the boss would be in, only to consistently hit them, drain their health to empty and proceed onwards like nothing happened. For a game that takes prides on its difficulty, this is a major issue that needs to be fixed by launch and if not, then soon.
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Black Future ’88 contains subtle HD Rumble which on reflection, is a nice change of pace. The game could have gone overboard considering the amount of action generally happening at any given moment, but it chose to focus its haptic feedback on the jumping and landing of the character, allowing the player to gain a subconscious insight into the character’s position.
World / Level Design
Black Future ’88 is strictly procedurally generated, with each room giving its own obstacles and enemies to work around. This is even true in boss fights as you’ll be fighting handful of bosses in random order, but the layout of the room may be different, causing you to rethink your strategies. In terms of exploration, there isn’t a great deal of variety here as each playthrough feels the same, just shuffled in order to keep the player on their toes.
The concept of Black Future ’88 is intriguing, taking a post-apocalyptic sci-fi twist on classic action movies of the late 80s. This also ties in well with the gameplay as you climb the tower with only 18 minutes before your heart explodes. It all sets up the theme of the game well, but it doesn’t do much to expand on it or explain it further as you’re playing.
Graphics / Art Direction
Black Future ’88’s pixel art is incredible and even though it doesn’t vary much, I occasionally found myself marvelling at what I saw. When loading up Black Future ’88, the game gives you a warning that there are a lot of flashing lights and for anyone prone to seizures or has epilepsy, they should avoid playing. This is certainly the case as even though I don’t suffer from these, I still found myself with headaches and strained eyes after extended play sessions. It does well to set the neon post-apocalyptic world and provides an art style that stands out, but I found it to go in this direction so much that it sometimes distracted my eyes momentarily from the gameplay.
UI and directional indicators are certainly helpful in roguelike games, but I found that those in Black Future ’88 took up screen space that occasionally blocked the player’s view of enemies and the like. These indicators are important, but not at the cost of a hit point or two.
Music / Sound Design
The game’s soundtrack is very upbeat and fits the tone of the game perfectly. It’s quite catchy to the point that I found myself humming the tune hours after I finished. Although, that wasn’t difficult as 90% of the soundtrack is the same, so it certainly gets repetitive.
Final Score: 74%
There’s certainly a lot of fun to be had with Black Future ’88, but I found that each positive seemed to come with a caveat or two. Many of the major issues can be fixed with patches and performance updates but at the time of this review, it’s something to be mindful of.
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