Neon And Blood

HIGH Fast-paced action, fantastic selection of weapons.

LOW Lackluster ending.

WTF Just… the whole plot, really.

Neon-soaked futuristic dystopias are dime-a-dozen in fiction, especially in videogames, so it means something when I say that Black Future ’88 manages to stand out in a crowded genre with cool pixelated graphics, clever boss designs, and a great collection of interesting weapons.  However, the experience is held back by lackluster narrative and an abrupt, uninspired conclusion.

In this particular post-apocalyptic nightmare, a nuclear holocaust arranged by a madman named Duncan wiped out most of the population.  From then on, people stopped keeping track of time passing, so it’s been 1988 ever since. 

Players take control of one of a handful of survivors attempting to scale Duncan’s tower to end his reign of terror. Or something.  BF’88 doesn’t make clear how killing Duncan will solve the world’s problems or alter the “endless” nuclear-tainted rain that continues to kill everyone.  It also doesn’t explain why Duncan’s minions seem to be immune to the effects, why they’re loyal to him, or why it’s so easy to access the entryway to his tower.  Fortunately, the gameplay more than makes up for this head-scratching narrative.

Black Future ’88 is a straightforward 2D platforming roguelike.  It emphasizes speed and agility, and encourages exploration to a degree.  Levels are procedurally generated, and even the final boss of each zone is randomly assigned when play begins. 

As the hero climbs the tower, there’s an impressive amount of verticality to the levels, aided by a great jumping mechanic and some cool dash abilities — necessary, as the number of projectiles during fearsomely frantic firefights is ridiculous. Players can fire back with an arsenal that’s a joy thanks to a wide variety of weapons, and many of them can drastically alter the course of a run.

There are standard things like shotguns and energy rifles, but more exotic firearms do things like shoot currency — every shot reduces funds available for upgrades. My personal favorite, the Night-Nail, allows the wielder to physically switch places with the target.  It takes a little getting used to, but it allows “hit and fade” tactics unlike any weapon I’ve ever had the pleasure of using before. 

In order to prevent players from collecting every conceivable goodie in a particular zone, a player’s entire run is limited to 18 minutes. Even if the player is at full health when the timer runs out, the player character dies, and the current run is over. This time limit is further emphasized when players choose perks and upgrades that may be beneficial in the short term, but ultimately costly as they subtract from the player’s 18 minute time limit.  The risk-vs-reward is engaging.

Cumulative experience gathered during all runs allows players to unlock additional weapons, abilities, and new characters, and certain characters can only be unlocked by accessing hidden areas or performing specific actions. Some weapons also have hidden modes that are only accessible when specific alternate abilities are equipped. 

In this current age of fretting about difficulty settings, I’m impressed that the developers added an Assist Mode which makes the game easier and reduces incoming damage, while also granting the player the ability to slow time (normally the special ability of only one of the characters).  While this nicety doesn’t extend into other modes, it’s great for those having difficulty with the… difficulty. 

Black Future ’88 works well as a local co-op title, and allows players to be as altruistic (or cruel) as they choose during these multi-player runs. If one character has trouble or can’t make a jump, the other player can save the day by making their way to an exit to keep the run going.  If one player falls in battle, the other can sacrifice health to resurrect them.  However, they can also loot their fallen comrade prior to making this decision!  I may have done this to my son one, two, or eight times during our playthroughs.

I enjoyed my time with Black Future ’88 but my biggest complaint is that text is nearly impossible to read when playing the Switch in handheld mode.  While HUD text can be enlarged, descriptor text for weapons and abilities cannot.  That, coupled with purple lettering against a black background make it damn near impossible to read the small font.  After memorizing some of the symbols for weapons and powers it became less of an issue, but it’s irritating nonetheless.

Despite the absurdity of the narrative and the disappointing anticlimax of its ending (not spoiled here!) Black Future ’88 is an impressive title with interesting weapons, spot-on controls, creative unlocks, and entertaining action.  I wish the visual accessibility was as robust as the rest, but fans of 2D action will enjoy it as a single-player experience, or with a buddy in local co-op mode.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by SUPERSCARYSNAKES and published by Good Shepherd Entertainment. It is currently available on PC and the Nintendo Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 7 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completedOne hour of play was spent in multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Fantasy Violence and Mild Blood.  The official ESRB description reads as follows: This is an action platformer in which players assume the role of post-apocalyptic survivors on a quest to destroy a tower. From a 2D side-scrolling perspective, players slash and shoot at robotic drones and enemy cyborgs. Players use futuristic pistols, shotguns, and swords to defeat enemies in frenetic combat; battles are accompanied by realistic gunfire and screen-shaking effects. The game includes some dark themes, including text that reads “You bled to death,” “Turn Your Blood Into Ammo,” “Blood Bait,” and “Run for Your Life.” Some environments depict blood-like splatters on platforms and walls; one background image depicts a head/mask with blood stains around it.

Colorblind Modes:  There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All audio cues have a visual component.  All offscreen enemies are identified by an arrow pointing the direction in which they are located.  All dialogue is either text-based or fully subtitled.  There is an option to resize HUD elements, but no option to resize or change the font color of flavor text and/or subtitles.  When docked this is acceptable, but in handheld mode very tiny print coupled with purple lettering on a black background can make some text almost impossible to read.  This affects the player’s ability to easily select special abilities when given the option.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.

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