For a game starring a nautical – and astonishingly buff – Father Christmas lookalike who flies through space on a surfboard, spending his time harpooning aquatic monsters and ripping their appendages off, Blacksea Odyssey is oddly dull. Taking the form of a top-down rogue-lite twin stick shooter, there’s some fun to be had here, if you can make it through the pain barrier to find it.
Having already seen release on Steam and Xbox One, Blacksea Odyssey has finally made its way to PlayStation 4. As the story goes, the Blacksea Odyssey is a sporting event run once a decade, in which the greatest hunters of the universe gather to prove which of them is the best. Ultimately, this involves slaying the big bad beastie known as ‘The Titan of the Stars’. That is all the refreshingly brief story that you’ll need to know before being plonked into the game proper.
After a tutorial that manages to explain astonishingly little of use, the player finds themselves in the first of many enclosed arenas. Here you’ll need to track down space monsters and kill them. A simple but effective radar is used to find them and then the troubles really begin. Initially, these creatures take an absolute pounding before they pop their clogs (or pincers, I guess). You’ll be throwing tons of spears, each one accompanied by an irritating gurning grunt that, after listening to thousands of time during a session, you’ll be certain to have nightmares about.
Whilst the monsters are hardy, the player character is equally tough. This leads to long wars of attrition as two opposing forces slowly whittle down their respective life bars. In many rogue-lite games you’re seeking to upgrade both your stamina and weaponry over repeated play, but in Blacksea Odyssey you’re really just trying to level up your offensive capabilities to kill your enemy in a reasonable time frame.
None of this is helped by the clunky controls. Movement is controlled with the left stick and works well enough, but it’s aiming on the right stick where the issue is found. It feels as if the traditional mouse and keyboard controls have been ported almost without alteration to a controller setup. As you move the right thumb stick, a reticule rotates around the player character, but the reticule is so close to the character that it is borderline useless, getting in the way rather than assisting in lining up a shot. This isn’t much of an issue with the spears, which can be flung out at a suitably impressive rate, but it causes huge problems with Blacksea Odyssey’s unique IP, a harpoon that can rip off enemy appendages in a spurt of pixelated goo. This weapon, whilst intensely satisfying when it works, must be charged with a squeeze of R2 for several seconds before its effective. Combine this with the loose and ineffective controls and intense frustration looms, as the player’s carefully charged harpoon is harmlessly lobbed into the void.
Graphically this is a dull affair. Enemies have little character and are constructed of nothing more than a few brightly coloured blobs or a combination of symmetrical shapes. This does allow for some vast enemies, such as the aforementioned bosses, but there’s nothing visually memorable or particularly striking here. The player character is a tiny speck and barely stands out against the chasm of black space that makes up the background. This causes issues in tracking your character’s movement, until they are levelled up enough to be launching a near constant stream of fireworks.
Eventually, through the grind of poor controls, ineffective weaponry and drawn out combat, the player character gathers enough upgrades to play the game in which it’s meant to be played. At this point things click and Pirate Santa – or one of the other three unlockable characters – arcs around the arena in a spray of bullet fire, with missiles seemingly releasing from any and every orifice in a hail of destruction. Here the game finally shines, resembling a more traditional twin stick shooter as the screen fills with enemies or, in some cases, just one massive boss. It’s this point that you’ll be having some fun. It’s just a shame that, thanks to the rogue-lite structure, the developer has hidden this behind a near impenetrable wall of attrition.
Blacksea Odyssey suffers from a poorly implemented rogue-lite structure. Putting aside the duff controls, the main hindrance to your enjoyment will be having to suffer through levelling up the player character in a near endless slog until the game finally becomes fun.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4 – Also available for PC & Xbox One