How many games over the years have had us climbing up a tower? Too many to count. But it’s been a while since the last one that was as straight to the point as Black Future ‘88. As its name implies, it’s set in 1988, and the future is indeed quite bleak. It just so happens that thanks to a cataclysmic event, the world’s been stuck in the year 1988, for well, as long as people can remember. They’ve given up counting.
It’s a weird premise, admittedly, but Black Future ‘88 makes it work thanks to its fairly unique combo of mechanics, style, and gameplay. For each and every one of your runs, you get 18 minutes to make it up the top of a dark tower called SKYMELT and defeat the final boss, a mysterious figure only known as Avalanche, who’s behind whatever caused time to stop ticking.
Before attempting to make it to the end, though, you get to pick one of a few survivors as your character, each with their own different starting gear. At the start, there are only two grunts you can fight as, one sporting a hand blaster with infinite ammo and a submachine gun, and a lady with a pea shooter and a crazy sword, but as you continuously try to get to the top of the game, you’ll unlock more. During these runs, you’ll also get a host of different upgrades which definitely come in handy during firefights.
Black Future ‘88 is straightforward in terms of controls. You can only hold two weapons at one time and can freely switch between them as long as you have ammo to use them. If you play with a controller, the recommended way by the devs, aiming is handled by the right analog and your shots are automatically fired by holding whatever direction you aim at, but your guns can also be shot by pressing one of the face buttons. By playing with a keyboard and mouse, it’s only a matter of clicking and aiming an on-screen reticle. As with other more modern shooters, you also get a nifty little dodge that lets you swiftly get through bullet sprays and platforms, but it’s not something you can spam and simply ballet your way to the end of the screen since its use is tied to a cooldown.
If you’ve been playing this type of game for any amount of time, you’ll feel right at home with how Black Future ‘88 plays. It doesn’t stray from the norm, but that isn’t a slight against the game at all. While it doesn’t revolutionize the genre in any way, it’s competently put together, and thanks to its time limit, it makes for a very quick pick up and play experience, regardless if you make it to the end or not. It’s nice to play an arcade title like this sometimes, and like the oldies, there’s no real sense of attachment or feeling of loss when you fail since you can just start over right away and get back to the action very quickly.
Then again, such a style of game can grow repetitive, and for as much as there is to slice and shoot your way through in the may permeations of play that Black Future ‘88 offers, there’s only so much you’ll find that’s particularly new after a few runs. Then again, repetition is the key to getting good at anything, and for as short as it can be, it’s done so pretty darn well.
Say what you will about indie games and their love for pixely graphics, but I really love them when they’re done well, and Black Future ‘88 manages to pull off some impressive visuals thanks to a blend of old and new, say, a touch of realistic lighting popping out of an open window as your pixel hero dashes through in the dim, siren-red room. It’s a really cool effect that’s only one of the many that are part of Black Future’s sharp presentation. The whole thing can get a little too busy, sometimes even obscuring your vision and getting in the way of the chaos. And if the game didn’t scream out ‘1980s arcade’ enough, you get some digitized voice samples that for as crappy as they sounded back in the day, really help set the mood now.
Sometimes it’s fun to just get into a game and not have to worry too much about losses. Black Future ‘88, for as bleak as it can be with its premise, is perfectly honest about what it strives to be, and in doing so, it absolutely succeeds at delivering short and exciting action with no baggage at all. It’s by no means a modern classic nor does it mean to be one, and the only thing keeping it from being a mainstay is its overall lack of staying power that stems from not having much variety. But if something to get through in a weekend is what you want, Black Future ‘88 might just be your game.