I should hate Black Paradox. It’s a retro pixel art side scrolling shoot ’em up with an insane difficulty level that relies more on luck than skill, and with just one life on offer some plays can last just a minute or two as the enemies overwhelm your Back to the Future inspired DeLorean ship. Despite that I’ve ploughed more hours into this game than anything else this past week, and not just because I have to write a review for it.
With just seven levels to its name, Black Paradox employs a rogue-lite structure; although you will encounter the same enemies each level, they will appear at different stages and in different patterns. You start with a standard forward firing gun and during each level you have the opportunity to defeat an enemy holding a new weapon for you to take. You can carry two weapons at a time and switch between them, but the weapons dropped by the enemy are random and can range from a gun that fires a hail of purple bullets and can wipe out waves of ships at a time, to a shotgun that is nigh on useless as it has a very short range. Get a good weapon during the first level and you’re set for the game, get a rubbish one and you might as well give up there and then.
There’s nothing particularly new in the weapon design, but many of them have been inspired by classic shooters, my particular favourites being the Boomerang which fires spinning discs that whizz all over the screen and a massive wrecking ball that spins round your ship, much like the one found in ZX Spectrum game Cybernoid.
You also get a super weapon, the titular Black Paradox, an AI controlled ‘dark’ copy of your own ship equipped with a random selection of the weapons on offer. Again, if you get a ship with good weapon and you can make mincemeat of the foes, but get a rubbish flamethrower and you won’t do much damage.
Beat the end of level boss and you will get to choose between two extra power ups – fancy some attack drones? Maybe a little speed stat boost? – and you can uncover secrets like black holes to teleport you all the way to the final boss battle at the end of level seven.
After around a minute and half of dodging bullets and killing enemies in a level, the boss battle will begin. Each has their own attack pattern and since they have a lot of health the only way to beat them is to learn the sequences and ensure you’re not in the firing line. The bosses rain huge hails of bullets so it takes many, many plays to learn how to defeat them, and as you have to wade through the previous levels to get to them, it’s very time consuming.
If you do die – which you will a lot – you lose everything apart from the credits earned during play. These can be used to buy chips, permanent enhancements to your ship, and two extra chip slots up to a maximum of four. It’s here where the game feels rather unfair. Yu get around 200 credits per level from the standard enemies, and 500 bonus credits for beating the first boss, 750 for the second boss, and so on. However, a single chip which gives you a 1% chance of firing a triple shot rather than single shot can set you back thousands of credits, and unlocking the two extra slots costs 30,000 credits. Once you have installed a chip then the next one of offer will be of a slighting higher power level, but at an increased price, so the 2% chance of a triple shot chip costs around a thousand credits more than the 1%.
It’s very mean. A 1% chance of anything is barely worth purchasing, and you only start seeing the benefits of the chips when they are getting near the 10% chance mark, which means playing the same levels over and over and over and over again until you’ve earned tens of thousands of chips. You can bring in a chum along as the game has local two player co-op which does ease the grind somewhat, and also gives you someone to shout at when you fail to beat the boss yet again, but even so.
While the graphics are rather generic 16-bit pixel art, the music is some excellent 80s style synth pop mixed with a more modern pumping dance beat. It’s one of the few shoot ’em ups I haven’t muted the soundtrack and there are plenty of tunes, so you’re not listening to the same thing all the time. That same can’t be said for the sparse sound effects which include the game shouting the name of each boss in a fake ‘Engrish’ accent every time you encounter thm. I could quite happily live the rest of my life without hearing a faux Japanese guy shout “The Insane Brothers!” ever again.