Man, I feel like I’ve been playing a lot of roguelikes lately. That’s totally okay with me, as long as they remain fast and stylish, and oh boy does Black Future ’88 have speed and style. It seems like a lot of recent roguelikes have adopted the neon retro future based on the 1980s for their backdrop. Black Future ’88 goes one step farther and sets the game in a future where the year is always 1988, and time to live is counted in minutes.
Black Future ’88 is a side scrolling roguelike with pixel graphics, but it’s one of the most stylish I’ve ever seen. It meshes the neon aesthetic from the 80’s arcade era with fast side scrolling action a la’ Dead Cells—but with an emphasis on gun-based attacks instead of melee. The combination of fast action and gunplay reminds me a lot of a side-scrolling Binding of Isaac—something I didn’t realize I wanted until this neon gift dropped in my lap. Though, unfortunately, it isn’t without its flaws.
In Black Future ’88 you go from room to room killing enemies. Of course, it’s easier said than done— you can find yourself in crazy bullet-hell like situations quickly. In most roguelikes, losing a run could be devastating—especially after dedicating more than an hour to it. But in Black Future ’88 you have a death timer.
Each run only lasts 18 minutes – so a run ending prematurely isn’t the worst, and makes each run feel like a kamikaze dive. A super clever use of the timed run is that some power-ups, and even some weapons, demand a payment of time to work. If you run out of time, you die instantly, of course.
To get through these suicide runs, you’ll need guns. And there are a good amount of them. Not every gun in Black Future ’88 is created equal, but some don’t even seem particularly viable. Fortunately, there’s a fair selection of fun weaponry to use—and even some guns that are so overpowered, they make some runs feel trivial. Once you get one of these overpowered weapons, you can just rush to each boss. And since there is an indicator always showing you where the exit of the level is, you can run some ends pretty quickly.
The enemy variety in Black Future ’88 is lacking. There are only about a couple dozen enemy types—if even that many. Even for a game with such short runs, it would be great to at least be challenged by a wider variety of enemy types. The amount of bosses you face isn’t much better—with only about a half of dozen of them that rotate between the four bosses you’ll have to face, before the fifth and final boss. At least the boss encounters are visually and mechanically distinct, but with so few to encounter, it won’t be long before you figure out how to best them all.
As you play, whether you’re winning or losing, you unlock items automatically. That isn’t’ as fun as purchasing items as you like them, but it does make you feel like you’re always moving forward. Different weapons and stations distributing power-ups will unlock eventually. The longer you survive each run and the better you do overall, the faster these unlocks will come.
There are five total playable characters. You start with two, but unlock the other three through gameplay. These other characters have subtle changes that make them play differently, but I found none too drastically different than the others.
As you would expect, every run in Black Future ’88 is different. Levels are configured differently, and enemies will be placed differently. Even when you progress to a new area, the overall level design doesn’t change too drastically. Along with the small amount of enemies to fight, it makes the whole experience feel same-y.
As much as I love the aesthetics of Black Future ’88, they can be a bit distracting at times, which can be bad in a bullet-hell environment. There are intentional visual artifacts and glitching, and even vehicles moving in the foreground occasionally that could distract you enough to end a run. At first it all seemed like too much, and while you CAN get used to it, it will always be distracting. I love the aesthetic, but I wish some of the extras would be toned down.
Black Future ’88 can be played with a couch co-op partner. With Switch, it’s as easy as cozying up with another Joy-Con. On Steam, you can play with your friends who don’t own the game with Steam’s new Remote Play Together feature. Co-Op definitely adds extra life to the game—I mean, who doesn’t enjoy playing with a friend?
If you really need assistance, and think Black Future ‘88’s difficulty is too much, there’s an assist mode that helps tone it down. But really, Black Future ’88 feels so short on content, using assist mode will just help you see everything a little faster.
Black Future ’88 might have been something you missed, especially with the crazy release schedule of November, and the entire end of months’ many digital sales. But you should definitely remedy that, especially if you’re into fast, bullet-hell gameplay that is drenched in neon.
Black Future ’88 is available now on Windows and Nintendo Switch.
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