Maybe black holes are our friends, y’know?
There’s the possibility that on the other end, there’ll be glory waiting for us. A heaven that cannot be dreamed of, an unfathomable scope of beauty, our wildest imaginations come true. Orrrrrr there’s a chance it’s just like Event Horizon and Sam Neill is waiting to vivisect us all. Liberate tuteme ex inferis, as they say, but the former sounds amazing, doesn’t it?
Somebody at FiolaSoft Studio must’ve thought the same thing because they made BLACKHOLE, a 2D platformer made in 2015 for Steam, before being touched up a bit for re-release on Xbox One and PS4. FiolaSoft themselves are a Czech-based studio who’ve made various Freeware titles before making BLACKHOLE their debut paid experience. But is it worth it?
You are “the coffee guy”, stationed on a ship dedicated to making the impossible possible, and by that, I mean that they close black holes. Eat your heart out, Stephan Hawking. While on this ship, your crew treats you with insults and contempt, even the AI, Auriel, joins in on the bullying, which I’m sure would go down well at HR. But during the mission to close the last black hole threatening the earth, something inexplicably goes wrong and you’re now forced to find a way out with the now friendly Auriel.
Right away, it’s hard to tell what BLACKHOLE wants to be. The writing and story suggest it wants to be a Portal clone, with the whole gameplay mechanic of “bending gravity to your will” suggesting that even further. But when you dig down into it, the ball-breaking difficulty and weird controls suggest it wants to be like Super Meat Boy, with the instadeath mechanics and one hit deaths providing more evidence towards that.
It’s clear it wants the best of both worlds, but doesn’t know how to intermix them properly. The writing, while momentarily funny, comes across as strained, filled with references instead of the black comedy that Portal punched you with. And the gameplay, while bad-to-the-bone and hardcore, doesn’t work in the same way it did in Super Meat Boy.
In Super Meat Boy, you had one goal, get the girl. Paired with that goal was tight controls and the feeling that you were actually controlling this slab of meat. Here though, your doomed coffee guy is so pathetic, that controlling him is a chore. That might just be down to the sheer amount of hatred FiolaSoft has for the player, though.
There’s two difficulties for testing here and both offer the same level of challenge, which is stunning. I have never seen a game ramp up in difficulty this fast before. By the third level, the game expects you to know all its mechanics and more, with various amounts of skilled moves that are necessary to continue. Water jumps, gravity boosts, wallslides, all of this needs to be combined and remembered, without any real tutorial or learning curve present. It’s like playing Elite: Dangerous while paralytic.
What’s weird is the difficulty isn’t present throughout all the levels. Level 4 had me stuck for about an hour, but 5 through to 8 were cakewalks on par with the first level of N+. And then level 9? 9 can eat me. I hate this level, this is such a stupid roll of the dice that shouldn’t be present in a game like this. This level is the definition of “threading the needle”, a one in a million shot that is made harder due to the new mechanic of slippery ice that you can’t grip to.
The game boasts “20+ hours of gameplay” and I only put that down to the fact that this is probably one of the hardest games I’ve played this year. If you could control your coffee guy with some level of force, but he’s so weighed down and annoying to move, it’s like trying to practice ballet with a ball and chain. His jumping mechanics aren’t natural, you’ve either got a leap or a wimpy hop, and his tendency to latch to cliff edges makes trying to perfect the path necessary to continue a sheer pain.
Really, the fact that this man likes to stick to the ground is what kills all flow for this game. You mess up a single jump or hit the wrong gravity well at the wrong time, and that’s it, you’ve got to restart, boy. And it wouldn’t even be that bad if Auriel would shut up for one god-damn second. She must have gone to the same Annoying Sidekick School that Jimmy from Vostok Inc. went to because listening to her pained robotic voice makes me want to cut my own ears off, Chopper style.
I simply have no idea who this game was made for. I like a good hardcore platformer here and there, a little bit of Super Cloudbuilt, Super Meat Boy and N+ will do me just fine, but I feel alienated by the skill ceiling on display here. The Dark Souls o- No, I can’t say that with a straight face. Maybe you’ll find it funny, but there’s no doubt that you’ve probably heard these references before, in better games.
In the end, BLACKHOLE is a singularity of confusion, a mess of ideas put on display with no real payoff. A difficulty curve that goes from 1 to 101, hateful characters and the stickiest controls on the planet makes this one to avoid. At least Super Meat Boy didn’t call you a dick every time you died.
a frustrating experience with mild laughs that doesn't cover up its contempt for the player