Black Hole

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
Genre: Action
Developer: Dufgames
Release Date: Feb. 8, 2018 (US), Feb. 6, 2018 (EU)


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Switch Review - 'Black Hole'

by Cody Medellin on Nov. 7, 2018 @ 2:15 a.m. PST

Black Hole is an arcade dual-stick space shooter for Switch, inspired by games like Crimsonland and Super Stardust HD.

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Some game blueprints are deemed classic for a reason, and Asteroids is a good case in point. Blasting large space rocks on a single screen seems too simple of an idea, but before you know it, you'll have spent a significant chunk of your time doing just that and enjoying every minute of it. The formula is so solid that two beloved modern classics, Super Stardust HD and Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved, are basically the Asteroids formula with a few more enemies and a twin-stick control scheme. Black Hole runs with this formula, and while it isn't going to be as well-known as the aforementioned titles, it proves itself to be a great addition to the Switch's shoot-'em-up library.

Much like Atari's legendary title, the gameplay loop in Black Hole is very easy to grasp. Each of the game's 40 stages is set in a circular arena, and a black hole is at the center. While the gravity of every object is set to that hole, there's no real danger of getting sucked in. Your job is to get rid of every object in the area before you can move on. At first, those objects are just asteroids; larger ones are broken into smaller ones when shot, and smaller ones can be obliterated. It doesn't take long for different elements to enter the fray, including mines and basic ships — and bosses every 10 levels.

You're soon flooded by enemies, but you aren't relegated to a simple gun and one-hit resistance. Your ship has an energy meter, so you can survive a decent number of hits before blowing up and expending one of your lives. There are energy pick-ups to restore some health, and shields give you some extra protection for a limited amount of time. Other collectibles can provide a score multiplier or put your weapons into overdrive, but perhaps the most valuable thing to collect is currency. Between levels, you can spend the currency to power up your guns with increased strength and speed, unlock a secondary weapon that can be fired alongside your primary one, or increase your ship durability. The most expensive thing allows you to build up a hyperdrive meter, which can be used offensively as a flurry of missiles or defensively as another shield to protect you from enemy fire and collisions.

On paper, none of this seems out of the ordinary for the genre, and that's fine as long as the shooting is good — and luckily, it is. Each of the three ships you can choose from is responsive. The gravitational pull of the titular black hole only plays a role if you don't actively control your ship, so if anything hits you, you'll only have your lack of fast reflexes to blame. At the most basic level, your primary fire gets the job done, but it starts to feel weak if you've reached the first boss without upgrading anything. The enemy density does a good job of keeping you on your toes, as do the firing patterns and intelligence of some of the foes. Luckily, the normal difficulty levels aren't too punishing, and even though the game has 40 levels to run through, their brevity and your ability to progress without too much trouble is encouraging enough to inspire you to try again immediately after a failure.

About the only issue one may have with the game is the need to clear out levels thoroughly. This wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the fact that some enemies tend to hide out in the darkest areas of the map, almost hidden from sight. It doesn't help that the darkened areas damage you heavily if you travel there, and shots come from foes that are constantly on the move, forcing you blindly fire in every direction just to tag a lone outlier.

The game is of a decent length, but there are plenty of options for those who want to give it another run. Each of the game's four difficulty levels comes with online leaderboards, which aren't too common in Switch shooters. If you want to make things even more hectic, there's a speed run mode, so you'll have a timer as you fight the horde of alien ships and asteroids. The game also has a lot of accessibility options. The colorblind option is excellent, since very few games deal with that, and the game is naturally frantic enough that it helps players determine what is and isn't safe to grab. Others options are novel, like the use of touch-screens and motion controls, but they're more of a gimmick than something you'd want to seriously use to beat the game.

The presentation can be easily classified as simple, at least as far as graphics go. Even when you take into account the game's origins on the Ouya and other Android-based platforms, the ships look decent but lack much in the way of details. The asteroids reach the level of "good enough" as far as looks go. Only the hole itself gets any real attention but only if you don't touch the default animation setting. What's impressive is the fact that the explosions look nice, and it all holds together at a high frame rate when so many objects are populating the screen. Meanwhile, the sound is where things shine, as the effects are solid. The soundtrack is a good mix of synth and electronic styles that support the sense of feeling overwhelmed, but it puts you in the right mood to mindlessly blast enemies.

Black Hole is absolutely fun. The concept is simple, and the upgrade system is nice, but the core shooting really drives the title. The difficulty level is balanced enough to make you feel like you're making progress, but it isn't so generous that you can easily beat the game in one sitting. It may not be on many people's lists for best shoot-'em-up on the Switch, but it certainly belongs in a tier close to that level.

Score: 8.0/10

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