That’s about all there is to Black Future ’88, really. A simple – though not simplistic – setup, a straightforward – on the surface – goal, and the potential to improve – and be harmed – along the way.
From that starting point, what you get is an explosion of neon cyberpunk mayhem and a strong introduction to the game, in which you will die. And die. And die again. Yep, Black Future ‘88 is a roguelike shooter-platformer, and it makes sure you know it.
Those first few deaths will be key: if you find after seven, eight, nine restarts in quick succession that it’s just not clicking – that you’re not picking anything up and it’s more frustrating than anything else – then I get it.
You’ll probably just want to bow out at that point. This isn’t a challenge thrown at your feet, this isn’t a cry of git gud. Some people just won’t click with Black Future ’88, and I think that’s worth highlighting. But some of us – myself included – will feel the pieces snap into place, bit by bit, over that initial dozen or so trials by fire (and explosion).
And this is very much an experience built on feel and overcoming hardships, because by crikey it doesn’t explain much to you outside of the loading screens and a codex you really should read.
But soon enough you’re rocketing around arenas, reflecting hits back at the waves of enemies in the room, and becoming increasingly less confused about the clustercuss of action filling up every screen. You’re installing upgrades to gain health by blinking through incoming fire, realising the gun that switches your place with whatever you fire at can be used tactically, and learning those boss battle patterns.
The 18-minute groove – often much less, thanks to the whole dying thing – sets a tempo, and your rhythmic aptitude improves in every run. Black Future ’88 can be, at times, intoxicating.
There are technical hitches – slowdown when there’s a lot going on, which can be ruinous to a run – and once you’ve put in a few hours, there really isn’t much else you’re going to learn or see, things instead becoming a case of pure self-improvement.
But the latter factor understood, and the former being one that only crops up every now and then, I have no hesitation in recommending Black Future ’88 to those looking to challenge themselves, to be dazzled by sumptuous visuals, and to be nodding along to a lovely electro-synth soundtrack.
It’s very good. It’s not quite great.
The first time you actually do something impressive – not only that, but you do it on purpose – is revelatory. You will then spend the next 15 playthroughs trying and failing to recreate your one second of mastery as you blinked through heavy fire and restored half your health before ending the boss’s reign of terror with a swing of your bullet-dry weapon. But that one time it came off? Beautiful.
It’s limited, but the more you play, the more you want to play. That’s a good trait to have.
Format: Switch (tested) / PC
Publisher: Good Shepherd Entertainment
Release date: Out now