One of the Holy Grail’s of game design is building gameplay mechanics that are easy to grasp but challenging to master. This setup allows for easy access to new players while giving hardcore fans lots to learn, practice, and master. During my hours with the Black Skylands playtest on Steam, I found that this easy to learn but difficult to master approach instantly apparent. Black Skylands is a top-down open-world shooter developed by Hungry Couch Games and published by tinyBuild. Take to the skies as you don the role of a young hero who sets out to defeat a tyrannical force who has enslaved your home among the floating islands of Aspya.
Combining Black Skylands’ difficult to master approach with some interesting gameplay variety, there just might be something special on the horizon from Hungry Couch Games. Without further ado, let me give you my three reasons to keep an eye out for Black Skylands.
1) A Variety of Gameplay
The core of my time playing Black Skylands was split between on foot and ship-based combat. While many games would have these combat modes function basically the same, the devs at Hungry Couch Games have gone the extra mile to deliver two strikingly different gameplay experiences between the two.
When on foot, the player strafes around with the WASD keys while allowing the mouse to determine which way your character faces in the classic top-down shooter style. Along with your standard guns, melee attack, and a useful dodge roll, the player also has a nifty grappling hook at their disposal.
It has long been known that grappling hooks make games better. Black Skylands certainly continues to prove this philosophy true. Not only is the hook utilized to navigate between closely floating islands, but it can also be used to pull enemies to you, which your character then knocks away, potentially launching the enemy off of the island. This gave me a fun alternative way to remove enemies from combat.
While the on-foot combat can quickly get frenzied with numerous enemies running around, the ship-based combat is a more slow-paced but no less challenging affair.
When piloting their ship, a player will quickly discover that inertia is an omnipresent force to be dealt with. Turning and braking must be planned as momentum must be bleed-off before the maneuver begins. Thankfully, the devs understand how tricky ship handling can be and keep the pace of shooting to a manageable level while flying the unfriendly skies.
On either side of the player’s ship, a single gun is mounted. With a slow rate of fire and an overheat mechanic that punishes rapid shooting, players need to line up their shots carefully. This is tricky at first, even with a three projectile spread shot, but the first time I swung my ship hard to starboard and timed that perfect shot, it felt so great!
This combination of faster ground-based combat and slower, more methodical ship combat holds a lot of promise for players who enjoy a challenging variety in their gameplay.
While I wasn’t able to fully explore this system in my limited hands-on time with the Black Skylands playtest, the game does hint at the potential for lots of customization.
While the player character can be equipped with several weapons and has access to three different slots for armor, the airship looks to be where the most customization will happen. With everything from your ship’s hull to guns and engines being upgradable, there looks to be plenty a player can do to tweak their ship. And when I entered the dock, an option to change ships also appeared. So apparently, you can come to own more than a single ship. So a player could potentially set up different ships for different situations.
3) Challenging, Yet Forgiving
The numerous firefights I got into during my time with Black Skylands were always a challenge. And while deaths were frequent, the penalties were never too great. If death came while I was on foot, one of my companions would fly me back to my airship, where I would be restored with a sliver of health. If my airship was destroyed, I’d respawn at the nearest fuel station. The biggest loss would come from spent fuel or ammunition that would have to be repurchased. And once I returned to the area I had died at, any enemies I had slain would still be gone. So I could continue making progress without having to refight already beaten baddies. This left me feeling like I was always making progress, while the travel times to return to where I’d died, and the potential to run into random enemies along the way provided me with plenty of incentive to do my best not to die.
After just a couple of hours with the Black Skylands playtest, I can see where the game has a lot of potential. With its variety of gameplay, well-thought-out challenges, and potential customization, it looks like players may have a lot to sink their teeth into when the full version of the game releases.
Black Skylands is slated to release on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch this June.