Review | Blackwind

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Originally published at: https://xboxera.com/2022/01/20/review-blackwind/

The early hours of a game are often the most crucial ones: it’s in these moments that a title can show its potential, hint at interesting story beats, start making us feel good as we start understanding the core mechanics. We had a largely positive preview for Italian indie studio Drakkar Dev with Blackwind, an interesting mixture of dungeon crawler, hack ‘n’ slash, platformer, puzzle game, RPG, and many more, but something went sideways along the way. But let’s not rush to the conclusions – what is Blackwind, even?

As mentioned in our preview last week, it tells a fairly simple story on the surface. A young teenager finds himself ordered by his dad to escape an out-of-control spaceship onboard a highly technological AI-controlled humanoid robot, something with a shape reminiscent of a Gundam or a Transformer. He has no combat experience whatsoever, but the quest to find his dad and other possible survivors on a hostile planet will put him in a situation bigger than himself, making him learn to deal with dangers.

These, of course, mainly present themselves in the form of robot enemies, vaguely shaped like humanoids, bugs, animals, and more. To beat them, players can combine devastating melee and laser blade attacks, rockets, lasers, and all kinds of special moves, with many more that can be unlocked throughout the meaty campaign by picking up coloured energy spheres, spendable in save points that also function as upgrade areas. While the controls aren’t always particularly responsive, which can become an annoyance when trying to pull off a specific combo, the high octane pace, the explosions, and the devastating Doom-Esque glory kill make for an exhilarating gameplay loop.

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In between these high-speed battles, however, the game’s pacing can come to a crawl. Whereas the first hour of the game implied fun exploration and platforming to come, this usually turns into tedious fetch quests, long backtracking, and most importantly, the controls and level designs are not good enough for the lengthy travels player need to prepare for.

The player frequently finds themselves hunting for objects to interact with, timed elevators to catch, jump between platforms, and so on, but the aforementioned unresponsive controls and an abundance of dodgy borders and invisible walls rapidly turn these parts into infernal chores. And they drag on and on, with open-ended areas featuring no minimaps and distant checkpoints and fast travel points.

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Minimaps exist in the game, however, and it’s when people enter underground bases, which function effectively as RPG dungeons. These areas are unfortunately devoid of all the visual creativity and invention of the other zones, and these take the most time of the playthrough by far since they are enormous mazes with even more backtracking, doors to find, fetch quests, with even minigames controlling drones and other parts that frankly feel like major wastes of time.

In these claustrophobic mazes, even the otherwise fun fights turn into endless waves of repetitive combat, since the level designs never change, and the enemy variety isn’t high enough to encourage all moves in the arsenal, favouring the use of a few shockingly effective combos ad nauseam. This is legitimately a shame because the combat model offers exciting moments, but way too often they overstay their welcome. And if a mistake is made and early death is met, the risk of replaying lengthy segments because of the sparse checkpoints is devastating for the soul.

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There’s a basic local co-op mode as well, reminiscent of the one seen in Super Mario Odyssey, where player 2 can only control a handy drone that can shoot and explore certain areas, but it’s not as fun as an actual proper two-player experience at all, and most importantly it does not fix the game’s issues. The potential for something fascinating was there, but unfortunately, the game’s first hour gave us a false impression, as the promising combat model and exploration became a repetitive, prolonged slog way before the end credits. Too bad.

3 Likes

Really wanted to enjoy this one plenty, but the game peaked after the first couple fights and exploration segments for me. After that, you realize that the open areas short and yet still padded with boring platforming, and inbetween you spend like an hour wandering through an underground maze that looks exactly the same as the others before, with stupidly prolonged battles and hellish backtracking. It feels like they had 2-3 hours of great game, but they had to pad it out to far, far more.