Blackhole is a Platforming Puzzle game in which you manipulate the orientation and force of gravity during specific areas to achieve your goals. Developed and published by FiolaSoft Studio, they both released it on Steam and have an upcoming console port.
Blackhole: PC [Reviewed], Mac, Linux
Developer: FiolaSoft Studio
Publisher: FiolaSoft Studio
Release Date: 27 February 2015
Price: £10.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Developer/Publisher]
And who are you playing as exactly? Well, you, my friend, are the venerated “Coffee Guy”, who’s task early on is to bring the captain of the ship, called the Endera, his coffee. The ship and her crew set out on a mission to close blackholes threatening Earth, but as you complete your latest coffee mission, the ship is swallowed by a massive black hole and the ship is destroyed, with its crew missing and separated, with fates unknown. The only other being within the player’s vicinity is the ship’s AI system, named Auriel, which has been copied to a PDA after the ship’s demise.
That’s the majority of the game’s story and premise right there. Once Auriel is in your possession, she informs you that in order to get off the area you crashed in you will need to find Selfburns to repair the ship, and hopefully find the rest of the crew in the process. The story does have other details as well, explained through audio logs, but it’s largely lore building that you otherwise don’t see too much of. I found it difficult to keep the story in focus since I was placing much of my mind in the gameplay, but it’s decent background to string the gameplay along.
The game starts you off in an Overworld, where there are multiple portals to other areas of the game spread around, making the overworld a level of it’s own as you figure out how to reach the next zone. As you enter each zone, you are faced with different challenges, and for many of the earlier levels, you are given a new obstacle or mechanic to learn. For example, the earliest mechanic, and the primary one is using glowing platforms that change the orientation of the map and the gravity along with it. The game warns you, that just because the platforms are there doesn’t mean you have to use them. In fact, many levels you’ll want to save using gravity platforms until the very last, especially if you plan on collecting all the selfburns in the level.
Later on, you’ll be given obstacles such as lava and water. Lava is obviously an instant death upon touch while the water acts as a barrier that, when dove into, actually forces you back up to the surface with no way to swim into it. It’s up to you to use these obstacles to help you complete the level, and it can be very tricky to find out exactly what to do. There are a few sections where you’re being chased down by something like a wall of lava, forcing you to think quick on your feet, and probably repeat the section multiple times until you get all the timing and jumping perfect.
I’ll admit, I’m not entirely great at puzzle games. Call it a lack of patience, but I often find myself frustrated early on with them. Blackhole was no exception, however, the act of solving the puzzles was actually entertaining enough on its own to hinder my frustration, for a little while anyway. You don’t actually have to collect all the selfburns on a level to “pass” the level, but it’s often enticing to collect them all regardless just to show that you can. It can be quite a bit of work to finish a level 100%, but it always felt good figuring it out.
Luckily, my frustrations were accompanied by a very nice soundtrack. There are different level themes in Blackhole, accompanied by different music with varying styles. All of it is primarily electronic music, with a very digital sound, but it varies from tranquil to fast beats. (FiolaSoft has posted the soundtrack on Youtube here if you’d like to take a listen: https://youtu.be/ppLvdc1CJhI) There are some very stand-out tracks here that I could find myself listening to outside of the game, which luckily the developers have made the soundtrack available for purchase.
Sound design isn’t anything outstanding, but there’s some nice little details, such as a jingling sound from your character when he jumps around. The voice acting is probably the most polarizing part of the sound. While most of it is rather good, some of the delivery appears a bit off. The writing does have an element of humor embedded in it, which is frequently entertaining, but some of the dialogue could have been presented better, particularly with the AI, Auriel. It’s pretty obvious that Auriel was trying to emulate some sort of Glados-like dialogue, but what made Portal’s delivery so impactful was the monotone nature of it.
I’ll mention, visually the game is pretty striking. It has plenty of colorful sprites and moving backgrounds and very cartoony characters. It’s perhaps not the most detailed 2D game of its genre, but it’s hard not to be brought in by the game’s vibrancy and sense of style.
I also had a couple problems with the game’s performance. For a while, I couldn’t even launch the game. The only way I could fix it was to go into Steam’s “Beta” branch. It’s also locked at an awkward 50FPS, but there doesn’t appear to be any input or visual problems because of it. The latest patch, at the time of writing, also introduced stuttering, frantically dancing between 45 and 50 FPS. It’s not continuous, but it flares up now and again. Whatever the problems are, the developers seem to be quickly fixing just about all of them. I’m not putting this to condemn the game in the long term, but currently, there are a couple bugs and issues that not everyone is having, but some of them are. I’m confident that these will be worked out long before the game’s possible console release.
Overall, I was happy to have my brain teased by Blackhole’s platforming puzzles. It’s nice to have a game that actually makes you think, and it helps to be from a game that also has a beautiful soundtrack and heart in its design. So get ready to fulfill your destiny as the Coffee Guy, with a cup of brew of your own, and let Blackhole suck you in.