Review: BLACKHOLE (PC)

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Developer: FiolaSoft Studios
Publisher: FiolaSoft Studios
Platforms: PC (Reviewed), Buy it here
 
I have to admit, when I first saw Czech developer FiolaSoft Studio’s BLACKHOLE on Steam, I didn’t quite know what to think of it. The screenshots pulled my attention, and a quick glance at some gameplay footage let me know there was something quite deep to explore. I’m glad I took the time to dive into this…black hole…because as dangerous and infuriating as it can be, there’s a lot of brain-twisting fun to be had with this indie puzzle platformer.
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Story

You are, well, a relatively unknown crew member of the spaceship Endera, even among your crewmates. Though the rest of the crew was tasked with venturing to black holes and closing them with the aid of an A.I. named Auriel, your only task was to fetch coffee.
Everything goes sideways when the Endera approaches the final black hole of its mission. Something goes terribly wrong. The ship is drawn into the gravity well of the black hole, and Auriel overrides the captain’s orders to abort the mission. The next thing you know, you’re in an unknown location, the Endera is destroyed, and you find no trace of the crew save a PDA the ship’s A.I. has somehow been transferred to. Now, with Auriel’s help, you’ll have to navigate unknown lands to find ship-repairing materials and the rest of Endera‘s crew before trying to make your way home.
The story, as rote as it is, is surprisingly well delivered. In the face of almost certain doom, Auriel and the rest of the cast deliver humorous, engaging dialogue to drive the narrative and provide an often-needed chuckle break from all the mind-bending puzzles. BLACKHOLE won’t win any awards for its story or characters, but they’re both enjoyable and memorable.
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Content Warning

As far as the overall content of the game goes, BLACKHOLE is relatively mild. Though it could have had the capacity to be downright gruesome, there’s no gore at all. You can be killed by lasers, spikes, long falls, and much more, but death is handled by disintegrating and reintegrating your body to start the puzzle over again. There is no concern for guts, gore, or blood at all.
The game is completely devoid of any lewd “adult” content. In fact, every character is fully clothed in a spacesuit with nothing lascivious to be concerned about. Thank goodness.
The real concern for me with BLACKHOLE is with its use of language. While it has no graphic violence, erotic content, or substance abuse (unless you consider coffee an abused substance), the game’s dialogue is more than happy to sling the four-letter dictionary at you. Characters regularly use words like, “D***”, “F***”, and “S***” under duress. It’s disappointing because this game would have otherwise been completely safe for gamers of all ages. I suppose you could get around this by switching the language settings to Czech, though.
Apart from the explicit language, the game is pretty safe for all ages. Just be sure you’re aware of the words those little ears could hear.
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Gameplay

At its core, BLACKHOLE is a 2-D puzzle platformer. At first glance, it looks like a high-res version of any old Super Mario styled run-and-jump game. If you spend more than two minutes with the game, though, you’ll quickly realize there’s far more here than meets the eye.
With the help of Auriel, you’ll have to run and jump through levels, manipulating the world to collect orbs known as “selfburns.” These orbs supposedly have the ability to repair anything, and your ship is in desperate need of them.
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As you work through each stage, you’ll have to hit glowing panels in the environment. Doing so will rotate gravity to match the panel you triggered. This allows several selfburns to be placed around each stage. You’ll have to be sharp with both your mind and your controller, though, because collecting a selfburn doesn’t guarantee you’re keeping it. If you die before making it back to the entrance, the entire world will reset and you’ll have to do it again. When you add the fact that collecting multiple selfburns per level requires it all be done in a single run, you’re in for quite a challenge.
Speaking of challenge, BLACKHOLE has it in spades. The devilishly well-designed levels can have anywhere from 2-6 selfburns, but only one is required to pass each stage. A series of stages makes up a zone, each of which is capped off by an intensive puzzle stage to rescue a crew member (one of which I spent around two hours trying to figure out and execute). After you rescue the crew member in a zone, though, you’ll still need a required number of selfburns to activate a portal to move on.
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Each zone in the game offers something fun and unique. Jump pads, magnetic boots, power gloves, and more will help you get through each of the different zones. On top of that, each zone has a distinctive look and feel, which helps keep both the game mechanics and the aesthetic fresh.
Though BLACKHOLE is well designed and executed, it’s not without a few flaws. The game’s subtitles either don’t reflect the spoken dialogue or show up in another language altogether. The version currently for sale also teases a challenge mode that’s not yet available. More than either of those trifling issues, though, BLACKHOLE‘s platforming gameplay feels woefully unresponsive at times. They just don’t afford players the level of control needed for an intense puzzle platformer like this. The game still plays fine, but having a beautiful run destroyed because you couldn’t properly maneuver is both heartbreaking and infuriating.

Presentation

You’ve got to hand it to FiolaSoft Studios: BLACKHOLE is a great looking game. Characters have a wonderful level of detail, environments are fun and varied, and despite the game’s overall difficulty, there’s a fantastic sense of whimsy here. The color palette really helps accentuate everything, too, ensuring your eyes never grow weary of the same old thing over and over again.
The game also features excellent voice work. Despite the potty mouths some of the characters have, each line is delivered with a palpable sense of sarcasm and humor. It’s pleasantly refreshing to see an indie game with such well done voice work.
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Conclusion

Overall, I’m quite pleased with BLACKHOLE. This indie gem came out of nowhere (almost like it’s made of dark matter) and has established itself as excellent fare for anyone wanting their puzzle fix. The game looks great, features well done voice work, and has enough devilish puzzles to keep you busy for hours. The controls could use a little tune-up, but anyone willing to break the event horizon is sure to have a gravity flipping good time.
 
Review copy provided by FiolaSoft Studio.

The Bottom Line

 

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Joe Morgan

Gamer, software developer, dog lover. When he's not writing for GeeksUnderGrace or CrossConsoleGamers, you can find him streaming at Twitch.tv/JoeKnowethGames

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