Blacken Slash Overview
Blacken Slash is an abstract minimalist rogue-lite that takes place in a corrupted retro computer system. Some folks may be tempted to dismiss Blacken Slash due to its simplistic visuals. But it has been my experience that very talented solo developers often hide Narnia in the Wardrobe, so to speak. Blacken Slash certainly lends credibility to that theory.
You can find a video version of this review on my Youtube Channel
You play as an evolving program represented by a prismatic pyramid. Armed with a simple melee attack, you quickly expand your bug-squashing capability with an arsenal of transmitters and circuits.
Most rogue-lites follow a strict set of boundaries. Blacken Slash allows you to break them by molding your gameplay style. It allows you to change nearly every variable that affects your character.
Do you feel that three actions per turn are not enough? Then invest in expanding them. You can shape yourself into a shielded tank that counters attacks, or one that zips around the arena building up a momentum bonus for massive damage. Blacken Slash hands you a set of tools and tells you to build whatever you desire. You just have to find the right parts.
|Gideon’s Bias||Blacken Slash Information|
|Review Copy Used: Yes||Publisher: ehmprah|
|Hours Played: 10+||Type: Full Release|
|Reviewed On: PC||Platforms: PC, Android, IOS|
|Fan of Genre: Yes||Genre: Turn-Based Tactical Rogue-lite|
|Mode Played: N/A||Price: $4.99|
Blacken Slash is incredibly simple to learn and feels fast-paced despite the fact that it’s a turn-based game. The developer describes it as a tactical action RPG. After playing it, I get it. It can feel hack and slashy, and at times any given level may only last 30 seconds or less. However, you still have as much time as you need to think through your plan each turn. You control the pace, and that feels nice.
You simply click to move, and if you attempt to move into an enemy, you attack them. Each movement consumes a cycle, and you initially start the game with three per turn. As you play, you pick up gear in the form of Transmitters, which are attacks and abilities, and Circuits that provide passive bonuses. Transmitters may consume one or more cycles when you use them, but allow you to attack in different ways.
One might be a ranged or area attack, one might push enemies, including off of the map. Others heal, shield, or teleport you. You can only have three transmitters at a time, so you have to think about what kind of abilities best suit your strategy.
The enemies on the other hand follow a logical and predictable set of behaviors depending on the type. One thing I want to note is just how easily identifiable the enemies become in Blacken Slash, even though they are just colors and shapes. You can view in-depth information on an enemy at any time, but after a play or two, it all comes naturally. The blocky enemy moves one space and hits hard, the ones that have two stacked shapes have two actions. The cones have a ranged attack etc. The game utilizes some very basic psychology and it feels very intuitive.
The Shape of You
What makes Blacken Slash shine is just how challenging the game is, and how that fact melds with the absolute freedom it hands you. Every transmitter and circuit has a set of statistics, these can range from damage, evasion chance, or special statistics such as stacking damage bonuses the longer you stay still. You earn kernels, the game’s currency, and one of the things you can spend them on is upgrading any stat on any piece of gear you have, or rolling it for a different type of stat.
In most games, that’s fairly boring, but you really do feel the difference in those stats as you form your build. You could, for example, focus on increasing your cycles, allowing you to take more actions per turn. In nearly every other turn-based game, this would be the most effective strategy due to the action economy. But every stat is so important in Bracken Slash. You sacrifice a lot of power to have those extra actions; less shielding, regeneration, damage, and more.
You very much feel when you have increased your damage, or when you pull off a massive momentum bonus. The game feels very different when you stack shields with a meaty counterattack than it does when you kite enemies around with ranged attacks or shove them around the battlefield. All of this freedom is further enhanced by the archive, the games twist on meta-progression.
The archive system further blows the concept of a build wide open. You actually have very little control over the gear you find. There’s a store, but it basically offers a random piece of loot for a price. I was initially pretty bummed out about this until I discovered how archiving works. You can buy archive keys and choose them as rewards. They essentially allow you to move any piece of gear to the archive where it will also retain any stat upgrades you invested in it.
When you lose a run, you lose everything. There isn’t any type of power progression, but you may choose from any archived items to take into your next run or leave them for a later run. This means that you’re not just building your playstyle out during a run, but the playstyles of future runs too. You can archive items that you don’t want on your current run, to save them for a later one, for example. Or use them to save a sweet piece of gear you have equipped when you inevitably lose.
Since some types of gear are part of a set collection, with extra bonuses when equipping items from the same set, you can stockpile them ahead of time. It’s a very interesting twist that really sets the game apart from other rogue-lites. Instead of simply becoming more powerful with each failure through a static progression system, you are encouraged to think several runs ahead and weigh it against your current run.
You have to strike a balance because acquiring keys comes at the cost of other boons, such as healing, gear, or money. It’s a unique combination of planning and pushing your luck and it works exceptionally well.
There are a few glitches in the system, figuratively speaking. While the game was actually bug-free during my time with it, I did have a few issues with its design.
Some levels come with a set of darker tiles that prevents you from teleporting to those spaces. It took me several runs to figure that out, I simply thought the game was buggy. If Blacken Slash ever told me about that mechanism, I missed it completely.
There is also the fact that while each run is addictive and fun, the archive system can make it feel like a grind, especially after you take a heavy loss. While you can win without using archived items, having a build set up ahead of time is a massive boon. It can sometimes feel like a grind to hunt the right pieces down since it’s random. That said, it’s a tiny blemish on the archive system that’s otherwise a brilliant concept.
Blacken Slash is a well-designed, challenging, and deep game hidden behind its minimalistic but charming aesthetic. Its core gameplay is simple to understand, but its stat-crunching character building extends far beyond its pick-up and play nature. It feels fast-paced despite being turn-based, and a solid upbeat soundtrack enhances that vibe even further.
Between the standard mode, online leader board, and ever-increasing difficulty modifiers, Blacken Slash offers plenty of gameplay to burn through. While it can at times feel grindy, it never feels repetitive, and “one more run” is always a tempting affair. A worthy entry to hack its way into anyone’s rogue-lite archive.
- Easy to learn with an elegant interface
- A turn-based game that feels fast
- Tons of freedom to form your own builds and playstyle
- Great soundtrack
- Excellent archive system that allows you to build out your future runs as you play
- The intuitive enemy design makes them easy to identify and remember
- Highly replayable
- Inexpensive Price
- Can feel grindy at times
- A couple of gameplay mechanisms aren’t obvious