When you have a goal as ambitious as playing every single shmup game in existence, there are bound to be comparisons. It’s an inevitability. We have the RPG shmup archetype in AngerForce and some other RPG shmup will eventually emerge and their qualities will be compared and contrasted. Same for your typical vertical bullet hell, etc.
So which is the overlap we will be seeing within this entry? The roguelite horizontal shmup. The current champion is Steredenn: Binary Stars. The challenger…
Developer: Fantastico Studio
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release date: May 02, 2019
Black Paradox is a horizontal roguelite shmup with a notorious synth wave style. Just between you and me, the synth wave is probably the aspect that drew us both to check this game. It gives Black Paradox a fantastic identity. It even convinced me that I am a fan of synth wave, despite never acknowledging this fact in the past.
The Bounty Hunter
In this game you play as Black Paradox, a bounty hunter who travels the galaxy to take down the criminal organization “Hellraisers”. In order to vanquish this evil organization, you must defeat its 7 lieutenants. I know what you are thinking, “This sounds like this game has 7 levels and bosses!”, well, you are not wrong.
Each stage will play exactly as you might expect. You fight waves and waves of enemies, collect items and weapons until you reach the boss. Upon defeating this boss, you will be presented with 2 choices (3 with the right upgrade) to increase the capabilities of your ship (car?). The bosses are predetermined, unlike Steredenn. This means that the boss of stage 1 will always be the boss of stage 1.
Even with the predictability of the boss you will encounter at the end of the stage, the layout of said stage will be random. The layouts of the level don’t seem to be truly random, but rather a random pre-assembled stage that is presented to you. At the beginning of each stage you will see at the bottom the name of the system in which you are. This might correlate to the stage layout… or not. Suffice to say that with enough playtime, you will actually start to encounter familiar stages.
In regards to firepower, you have several options at your disposal. The most obvious is your main weapon. Black Paradox currently has 20 different weapons, of which you can carry 2 at any given moment. You can switch between them on the fly, but there is a brief delay before you can use your newly swapped weapon.
To assist you in your mission, drones are there to help you. Think of drones as “options” from any other shooter. The drones really do come in many flavors. Some drones will shoot at your enemies, others will circle around you and block incoming shots. One drone will fly around with a shield that wipes out bullets and other one will just bounce on-screen as a wrecking ball. In short: drones are awesome, but it is a shame that they can only be acquired as your end-of-level boost.
Sp, speaking of end of level boosts, what you will find in Black Paradox after defeating the enemy is exactly the same you would find in Steredenn. Black Paradox presents you with 2 permanent boosts that last until you die or beat the game. There are several power-ups to find with miscellaneous effects. There are stat boosting perks such as +20% attack, there are passive effects like unleashing bullets when you are hit, there are even wackier effects like increasing the size of your ship. The variety they offer is great when playing, but it is a shame that you only get to choose from 2.
Picking 2 specific items will result in combos that will further enhance your abilities. I wish I could talk more about these combos, but in my entire playtime I was never able to trigger any. I’ll just leave you with some combo names which I stole from Black Paradox’s dev blog:
Minimega Combo added
Save Haven Combo added
Corrosive Solution Combo added
Wombo Combo added
Life Master Combo added
Other than being the name of your bounty hunter, Black Paradox is the name of your “bomb” ability. To use Black Paradox, you must fill your energy gauge by defeating enemies or collecting blue canisters. When unleashed, Black Paradox will summon a copy of yourself with a random weapon to assist you for a short while.
With the very obvious name implications aside, it is incredibly satisfying to see a stronger version of yourself. I like to think of it as summoning myself after a couple of playthroughs and some good chips.
Those times when the Black Paradox summon was incredibly dumb and wasted its time not killing anything? That’s probably also me when I play while feeling drowsy.
A huge element of Black Paradox is the ability to obtain permanent boosts for your ship (car? I will just keep calling it a ship from now on). These boosts come in the form of chips that can be purchased at a price. The benefits of the chips include boosts to any of your 4 main stats: HP, Attack, Speed and Fire rate. They also include a passive ability. The abilities are varied and range from defensive ones like starting the stage with a shield or regen every minute, to offensive ones like a chance of firing 3 bullets or even life-stealing.
Currency is acquired by defeating enemies. The chances to buy from the garage are presented on the main menu of when you end a run. When accessing the garage you are only presented with 2 choices of chips to purchase, which might go from lv.1 to whatever the max level might be (the highest I encountered was 13). If you disliked the chips that were presented, you can either pay to re-roll or just start a new run.
Bringing in the roguelite progression
At this point I gotta say that the garage represents one of the biggest desires I had for Steredenn when I played. It is true that it might deviate the shmup formula a bit, but it also gives the game a much needed sense of progression and a very clear distinction from when you first boot up the game, to when you first managed to complete a run of the game.
On the other hands, the passive effect of the chips leave much to be desired. From an outside point of view it might seem that getting passive effect is great, and that’s partially true. The issue arises from the fact that chips are randomized. You might get nice stats but a terrible passive or vice-versa. Even if you get a desirable chip, the fact that most abilities are proc’d on random chances destroy any possibility of planning a strategy.
The one strategy I was excited to try was all chance of firing backward chips with the boomerang weapon for maximum on-screen shenanigans. The reality was that I could never get 4 chips with decent stats and backshot chance, or even get a chance to guarantee a boomerang weapon drop in any run.
The woes of progression
Where there is progression, there’s always a very predictable downside: early game weakness. For all the good that comes from becoming strong, there is an accompanying feeling of slog fest when first playing the game. Nobody expects to clear a roguelite on its first run. Typically this sentiment of weakness fades as players find ways to become stronger, so why am I bringing this up? Because weakness is also a recurring element thanks to the garage. As you upgrade to higher level chips, you will inevitably tinker with stats or go full passives, only to find yourself as weak as when you started the game.
I probably don’t need to mention this, but Black Paradox has a very pronounced synth wave style. Everything from the soundtrack, to the enemies to even the pixel art just oozes of the 80’s. The tracks are a joy to listen and it is hard not to love the style of the game.
It is all presented through a VHS filter which gives it an even more authentic look! You can turn it off for your viewing pleasure, but please don’t do that.
On the topic of talking about things that are very obvious, Black Paradox features a very beautiful pixel art style. To be fair, it is embellished by the VHS filter quite a bit. Turning it off might expose some of the uglier details of it.
Perhaps my favorite displays of pixel art come in the shape of boss encounters and how you are presented with a full screen portrait of the boss. I’ve always loved that precise detail, so if you are unimpressed then it’s ok, for me it’s something really personal.
HD Rumble baby!
While not something you will ever experience by watching trailers and reading reviews, Black Paradox features some heavy usage of rumble. By heavy usage I mean the type that will most likely give you a slight numb feeling. The kind of rumble that threaten to break a glass table if you leave your switch over it.
It’s usage is quite strategic too! At first I was confused by having the game rumble both, when enemies died or when I took damage. As of now, I’ve arrived to the conclusion that enemy rumble is focused on the right joycon, while taking damage rumbles the left one. It might also be relative to screen position, either way it seems like clever usage.
Black Paradox vs Steredenn
When deciding Black Paradox’s place on the list, it is important to compare it with the very game style it overlaps.
Black Paradox features a more distinctive style with synth wave, and the overall presentation from the pixel art to the enemy design to the OST is simply a delight to experience. It also expands upon the concept of roguelite and offers a way of gaining permanent power boosts.
Where it falls short is with the gameplay. bullet patterns aren’t as fun to play around as they are in Steredenn. Most of them just devolve into “avoid the pattern entirely” rather than finding optimal flight patterns.
The other major blunder comes from a lack of variety. Black Paradox has less variety in weapons and upgrades, but it’s biggest limiting factor comes from the fact that only a single weapon drops per stage. There are only 2 perks per boss defeated and 2 different chips to purchase per garage visit (or infinite if you feel like re-rolling with all your money). As its own game, the variety would be fine, but I can’t shake the feeling that there are very little options at my disposal per run.
Bonus: How to be better then Steredenn
Black Paradox was a very strong contender to beat Steredenn, but this is what I feel would have pushed it over the edge:
- Offer 2 or more weapon drops per stage, and 4 or more boosts per boss kill
- Separate stats from passive in the garage. Let the player allocate money to increasing stats (up to a cap of 40, which is the max you could get from high level chips). Chips will still give passive effects and it retains the “loot grind” aspect of looking for perfect chips
- Decrease bullet speed, but increase bullet count. Most enemies feel like they are just raining fast bullets in hopes of catching unsuspecting players. With the changes I propose, the gameplay dynamics would steer towards positioning and navigating the patterns, while avoiding situations in which you trap yourself.
THE RANKING SO FAR:
- Devil Engine
- Steredenn: Binary Stars
- Sky Force: Reloaded
- Black Paradox
- R-Type Dimensions EX
- Shikhondo – Soul Eater
- AngerForce: Reloaded
- Aero Fighters 2 (ACA Neogeo)
- Lightening Force: Quest for the darkstar (Sega Ages)
- Switch ‘N’ Shoot
- Last Resort (ACA Neogeo)