‘Welcome to Skymelt’: ‘Black Future ‘88’ is short but sweet

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Kenneth Castro

Black Future ’88 is a game all about dashing and slashing through enemies, all neatly styled in a synthpunk style.

Kenneth Castro, Staff Writer

Black Future ’88 is a roguelike 2D action shooter with a heavy dose of a retro cyberpunk infused into its visual aesthetic. The premise of the game is very simple: the nuclear apocalypse arrived in 1988 and you have 18 minutes to climb to the top of an ever-evolving tower to kill the man who destroyed the world.

The gameplay is very simple: you play a tiny pixel character as you clear room after room with randomly generated traps, enemies and loot. The enemies are very aggressive and spew bullets in a bullet hell style pattern where you must evade waves of projectiles or get punished. There are four bosses, or “Wardens” as they are known, to clear before you can reach the end. To keep the pressure up, the 18-minute timer will constantly keep on ticking no matter what.

In order to combat this, you have access to a variety of special weapons, unique buffs and a dash that lets you become invincible for the duration of the dash. 

As you kill enemies, they will drop currency to use in merchant shops, and some rooms will have random chests with powerups. However, if you leave the loot on the floor for too long, Skymelt, the tower itself, can absorb it to make enemies stronger.

The same thing happens with powerups, where purple-colored “Cursed” buffs or items can be selected among others, which can potentially give you the boost you need to clear more rooms, but will make enemies tougher. If you find the gameplay too easy or would like to explore more of the weapon selection, you can sometimes are given the option to manually spawn in enemies to fight.

The first time starting the game, there definitely was some trouble with the game running at a smooth, consistent 60 frames per second. If you have a very low-end machine, I highly suggest tweaking the graphics a bit, especially the “Volumetric Lighting” setting because it is very unoptimized or the “Background Density” because sometimes the background, although beautifully illustrated, can get distracting.

Once the game gets going, it can be really addicting jumping around and easily dispatching the enemies for the first couple of runs. Trying to aim for a cool combo, deciding what buffs to grab, or experimenting with weapons that you find is all part of the first-time fun. It’s very easy to pick up and play, and most people would not have trouble understanding the mechanics or enjoying the game.

The soundtrack is typical synthwave tracks — think Hotline Miami, but less energetic and adrenaline-pumping. The game bears a striking resemblance to other roguelikes, especially Dead Cells, which has a buff and weapon system very similar to it.

The game relies on it well-executed aesthetic and chaotic action to pull you in and anchors itself on risk versus reward, managing curses and loot. Most of the fun comes from dodging the spray-and-pray mini bullet hell and firing back with whatever weapon you think is the coolest. Some buffs and weapon combos synergize really well so there’s additional fun in finding some creative pairs. One personal favorite weapon is the “Black CRAT.R” which is a hammer that allows you to slam into the ground and destroy bullets, as it reminds me of Space Marines with Thunder Hammers from the Warhammer 40,000 franchise.

Although charming, a problem with this game is that, for the most part, there isn’t very much to do. There are only a handful of enemies to kill and only five bosses which randomly rotate. Post-game (as in defeating the final boss) finds you starting from the beginning, doing more of the same. You can unlock characters with special traits and experiment more, but doing that only lasts so long. There could potentially be more content patched in later, but at the time of the review, there isn’t.

Consequently, the game probably has enough content for 8 to 10 hours of fun. There is a Co-op (Cooperative Play) to experience it with a friend for some potentially interesting runs, but again, it is still content limited. Unless you are extremely attached to the gameplay or an achievement chaser, the game will last you only a couple of hours.

The game, although short and sweet in its current state, has a plethora of potential content. If you find yourself with a couple of hours to kill or want a retro cyberpunk trip, Black Future ’88 is definitely a recommended contender.