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August 2022

Black Skylands

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: tinyBuild
Developer: Hungry Couch Games
Release Date: Q2 2021


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PC Preview - 'Black Skylands'

by Cody Medellin on Aug. 26, 2020 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

Black Skylands is an open-world, top-down shooter set on breathtaking floating islands where you locate the spawning nest of the enemy, discover its secrets, and defeat all the bosses.

Using the sky as a replacement for the ocean has worked well for games. Part of that is due to it being much easier to do something airborne instead of dealing with ocean physics. Another reason is because treating the sky as a giant place for flying lands and exciting ship fights can't be replicated in real life. That setting makes Black Skylands interesting from the get-go, but everything else gives players a good reason to stick around in anticipation of the final version.

Like a number of recent demos on Steam, Black Skylands is short and focuses on two mechanics. The first has to do with your airship, which isn't that easy to control. Acceleration and deceleration are gradual instead of instant, and turns are rather wide even if you're almost at a standstill. You can shoot enemies but only if they're on either side of your ship, and cannon fire isn't rapid since you have to pause between shots. The whole thing feels methodical but exciting as you must plan everything instead of going full speed ahead or with guns blazing, since either strategy will get you killed easily. On the flipside, you can repair your ship without having to be docked, which may give you some Sea of Thieves flashbacks except you don't have to travel far to patch up holes in the hull.

Once you dock, the game becomes a traditional twin-stick shooter, albeit one with limited ammo. You get a healthy selection of guns, there are no limits on the guns that you can carry, and the game has an aiming system where your crosshairs can tell you if your shots are laser-focused or will go wide. You have a defensive maneuver in the form of a dodge roll, and you can melee enemies if they get too close or you run out of ammo. It's nothing that you haven't seen before, but the mechanics are tight, so you won't mind.

Interestingly, Black Skylands takes advantage of the sky setting for twin-stick shooting in a few ways. First, you can use a jetpack and while it is a little difficult to see you gaining elevation while it is active, it means that you have another way to pass over enemies. Second, the game lets you use the jetpack to travel between small islands, opening up new pathways to reach your goal. Finally, you can fall off the edge of an island either because you walked off of it or flew without looking at your fuel tank, so positional awareness is more important in this title than in other twin-stick shooters.

While the demo focused on combat, there are some things that the Steam page hinted at that we'd be interested in seeing. For starters, the game is labeled as an RPG, but we didn't see anything related to an RPG during our time with it. While the gun selection seems fine for now, the page also hinted at gun modification with a plethora of parts that you can gather. There's also something about farming, which we didn't see in the demo at all; depending on how that plays out, it could give the game some Atomicrops vibes with a more serious setting. With these things being added, the question becomes how well they act on their own and how well they fit the game's overall theme.

Despite featuring a short demo, Black Skylands shows off how well the development team can execute on mechanics. Airship fights have the potential to be exhilarating if it scales up correctly, and the ground-level twin-stick shooting feels tight. All we need to see is how the game's extra features and levels will pan out. With a release date of sometime in late 2020, there's still time to see how Black Skylands evolves.

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