Welcome to BLACKHOLE: Complete Edition, a hardcore-platformer with world rotation mechanics.
You follow some random crew member on a ship that was sent to close blackholes around the galaxy. You’re pretty much the intern that nobody likes, and that is shown in your first mission which is to get the captain some coffee, right before the main game kicks off.
After your crew tries to close the last blackhole that could be a threat to Earth, the blackhole pulls you in instead of closing, and you get stuck with the AI as you try to put the ship back together and find the missing crew.
The game has some options that determine how much story you want to take along with you. I initially decided to play on the least amount of story, just so I could get into the meat of the game and actually play, but it still took something like 10 minutes of unskippable dialogue before I could get into things. Remember, that’s with the lowest setting! I don’t even want to know how much the full story takes up in time, but it definitely could do with a bit of cutting down. BLACKHOLE furthers the storytelling more by having collectibles that you find throughout the game, in the form of black boxes.
You have to pick up these black boxes from inside the hub world to try and make sense of the tale, giving your AI companion more of their database back and delivering you audio logs of what happened during the crash. As far as collectibles go, they’re pretty standard and nothing too special. There are special collectibles however and these come in the form of the seven missing parts of your ship that are the last of their kind. You have to find those to completely put the ship together, along with getting large amounts of self-burns, the main objectives of the platforming levels, to heal the ship.
BLACKHOLE plays like a more puzzle laden version of Super Meat Boy, but you’re left as a sluggish person without too much traction, unlike the very precise platforming that SMB has. It feels a little more like your spacesuit has no grooves on the soles, making it substantially harder for you to grip the floor and make precise movements… but accurate movements are needed on a hardcore platformer such as this.
It’s fairly standard stuff and there aren’t really any standouts in the way of interacting with the game. But it does have a very interesting mechanic.
You can rotate the world by stepping on glowing pads you see throughout the levels. BLACKHOLE uses the rotation mechanic in both the hub world and the levels, with the former being used to get to collectibles and the latter being the puzzle-platformer style game that you would expect from the genre. It’s interesting, for while we have seen rotational mechanics in games before, I’ve generally not seen a game that lets you keep your momentum when you rotate. It definitely uses this niche idea to its advantage, bringing many puzzles that, to some extent, rely on it.
BLACKHOLE: Complete Edition however promises to be a hardcore platforming experience and it is just that which it is. There are times where you’ll get very frustrated with what it brings, and sitting here now, having died well over 100 times, and having tried every concept for a specific puzzle that I can fathom, at no point is it beginning to go easy on me. Now this wouldn’t be too bad if it was easy to look up a guide to help you beat the levels that you find a bit too hardcore, but searching for help on this game is almost as bad as asking where to find Fuel. The game that is, not the stuff found at a service station. In fact, I’m at a bit of a loss as to how I can continue, but perhaps one day things will click and I’ll manage to find a solution. As it stands, my time with BLACKHOLE has been good, but there have been moments when I’ve wanted to throw my controller at the screen in front of me. And that’s because this game can be utterly frustrating for numerous reasons.
Not only is it supremely hard, but there’s no skipping of the dialogue, even if you have the lowest amount of story enabled. Choosing that option has obviously shown that I don’t want story, so why not let me just skip the cutscene and get on with the game?
Secondly, the controls just don’t feel nice at all. It feels like they don’t respond half the time, whilst the other half leaves them feeling like everything is made out of ice and you’re wearing loafers. Sometimes, the character will even grab onto a nearby ledge and climb up it if you’re too close, and usually that means you end up dying as a moving cube burns you with hot lava – kind of like the ultimate insult to injury. It feels like BLACKHOLE wants the player to hurt, to punish them for wanting to delve into the depths of a blackhole.
Finally, the voice acting on the characters is not particularly enjoyable. It’s less the job of the actors, they did fine, but it’s the quality of the audio that really hurts. Every character sounds almost like they’re being heard by somebody who has an extreme case of tinnitus, whilst listening to them via Nokia SAT Phone. It is no doubt to try and immerse you in the astronaut headset quality, but it really ends up either giving you a headache, or leaving you to mute every character in the options menu – which is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that you don’t have to hear the sound quality, the curse is that sometimes the subtitles are wrong, so you won’t know if you’re getting the correct information unless you have the audio on.
BLACKHOLE: Complete Edition feels like it is set to head in the right direction, but shores up a little too soon. It intrigued me with its Sci-Fi aspects, even if it left me wondering more about how you would close a blackhole than worrying over the gameplay. It might just be the porting side of things, or it might just be what they were aiming for and it didn’t sit well with me, but either way it definitely could use some work. If the developers could fix the controls to be a bit more precise, and at least remove whatever distortion they have going on with the audio, I might quite happily be able to get in there and put another 100+ deaths into the joys of the blackhole.