Blackhole – Review

Title   Blackhole
Developer  FiolaSoft Studio
Publisher  FiolaSoft Studio
Platform  Windows PC, Linux, OS X
Genre  Puzzle
Release Date  February 27, 2015

If you hear a faint thump as you begin to read this review, it’s likely the sound of me smashing my head into my lovely wooden desk as yet another puzzle in Blackhole sees my relatively respectable IQ reduced to nothing more than ash and cinders. If you love puzzle-platformers and you’ve not felt truly challenged since you finished the likes of Braid for the fourth time, then you’ve come to the right place. Ladies and gentlemen, prepare to be thoroughly frustrated and pleasured in equal measure without dropping the cheddar at your local strip club. Welcome to Blackhole.

Blackhole is a 2D sci-fi puzzle-platformer that challenges you to rescue to the crew of the star ship Endura by exploring a newly formed world, named Entity. As one of the crew stranded in, around, on or nearby this place, it’s in your best interest to help them get the Endura working again and move them to safety. I phrase it as ‘in, around, on or nearby’ because, like any good science fiction title, we’ve got a pretty solid story here. The crew of the Endura are involved in some pretty serious earth-saving business when everything goes horribly wrong and they find themselves stranded inside a black hole, on a newly formed… thing… called Entity. It’s all incredibly science fiction but it’s told with such humour that it doesn’t come across as mind-numbing or boring. There is plenty of silliness here, as well as the odd sci-fi and pop culture reference, so you’ll hopefully enjoy the story when its presented to you and happily go along with the motivations of the characters.

The character you control is simply known as ‘the coffee guy’ – the grunt of the ship. Compared to the others, from the Captain to the navigator, everyone is more important than you. Yet the ship’s artificial intelligence, Aluria, finds herself relying on you to help repair the ship, rescue the crew, and unlock the mystery behind her sudden amnesia. This means that there is plenty to see and do, from finding and chatting to the crew, to finding the black boxes that contain recordings from Aluria’s memory, to finally collecting selfburns.

Selfburns are what you collect in every level to help repair the ship and unlock more areas. Each area has a central hub that either contains the ship or a portal to get back to it. This is also where the black boxes are to be found knocking around, as well as the entrance to every individual level in that hub. Each level has a number of selfburns to collect and although life is easier just collecting one or two, gaining the full five or six means you can repair the ship faster and open doors quicker. Thankfully, if you enter a particular bastard of a level, the game will allow you to exit and move to the next stage, provided you collect at least one selfburn.

It’s clever because it is made clear early on that you can’t get by in this game by just collecting one selfburn from each area and run to the finish line. It means there is some ebb and flow to the game, and that you only tend to get really, really stumped when you’re trying to collect them all – most players should be able to get two to four selfburns per level, if they’re willing to exercise some grey matter.

The central concept for most levels, if not the game, is that you’re able to rotate the screen – or as the game would have you think, shift gravity – by touching different coloured platforms. If that sounds a little too easy or straightforward, I have no qualms advising you that it really fucking isn’t. Working out how to get to these platforms is as tough as pulling off the skill level required in the platforming department. It is actually very difficult and I found myself ‘YouTubing’ one of levels fairly early on because I could not understand how to capture the last selfburn. I was convinced that there had been some sort of mistake and that it was just wasn’t possible to collect them all. I was ready, and have been at various points in the game, to accuse the developers of releasing a broken, poorly tested game. The only thing that is broken and poor, however, is my puzzle-solving confidence. Yet, despite this, every success and every complete collection was punctuated with a victory fist into the air and a comment of ‘fuck yeah‘. I don’t think I’ve done that with any other puzzle game – not even the likes of Portal had me do that. This is likely down to a higher level of difficulty with Blackhole and the fact that with Portal, I cared more about the story – that was my pull, that was my motivation. Here, as good as the story is, my main motivation is to focus, to succeed and to win.

As the game wears on, you collect more selfburns, unlock more areas, find the missing crew and repair the ship, but my interest did begin to wane. Where Portal introduces other elements, the central theme here remains its only one and the difficulty and level design ramp up. That’s an impressive feat in itself, but I became less interested in collecting all the orbs and every black box. The different levels are pretty cool and shake things up by introducing new features such as organic pulley systems and climbable walls. There’s a strong learning curve rising through the different levels, and that’s down to the design first and foremost – it’s great stuff and you only marginally feel like you’re just rambling through the same stereotypical areas of most platformers.

Not that rambling around this game is a chore, because it’s a pretty game to look at. FiolaSoft Studio has nailed a very cute design that is part Braid and part Coloropus. Every area is wonderfully detailed, with lots of little touches to ensure you feel like you’re in an alien world. All the crew are also well detailed and the game is vibrant and beautiful in its presentation. This won’t push your graphics card to its limits, but equally, it is not often that games use so much colour. Blackhole takes full advantage of its freshly created setting to create a world that is rippling with colour and warmth.

The same can be said for the audio, although there are some caveats to that. Each character is fully voiced, and done well, which shows that even indie titles can afford to get the audio nailed with time and patience.  Even during the longer-than-I-expected opener, each character has a voice and each feels unique. It’s such a shame that some of the story is conveyed in such a way where you have to sit and listen to them talk, and only once you’ve visited the individuals in question. Part way through the game I’d get regular messages about going to visit people because a prompt advised me that they wished to speak to me. This is fine as a game device, it’s common in most open-world games, but those tend to have a lot of stuff that can happen in between or a fast travel system. Blackhole has neither, and so you find yourself walking back, breaking up the excellent gameplay, just to have a character prattle on about… nothing much at all. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, but it takes a bit of shine off the apple.

That quibble aside though, you’re looking at very good game if you decide to purchase Blackhole. It’s tough but cute, challenging but charming, and certainly fits the phrase of ‘not judging a book by its cover’, which is certainly what I did when accepting it for review. Not only was I pleasantly surprised at the game itself, but the time mode attached to collecting selfburns means there is a longevity here, for those who a) need to collect everything and b) need to do it in the shortest time possible. There is also a ‘challenge’ section on the main menu but currently this is listed as coming soon, so other than saying ‘I’m sure it will be good‘ I can’t pass judgement any further.

  • Fun story
  • Great level design
  • Challenging game play
  • Great audio and visuals
  • Not much variety from a central, although excellent, mechanic
  • Conveying the story could have been handled better

Blackhole is a game worth of your attention if you're looking for a challenging puzzle game a little out of the norm. It's witty and clever throughout, and it's not something you'll tire of quickly. If you're someone who looks at a puzzler (or any game for that matter) and you need to collect every item, then this will really work your grey matter. For everyone else, here's a fun and fairly original game that is going to steal some hours of your life. Just don't come crying to me when you can't find the solution to one of the puzzles - I certainly had no-one to turn to.

Our review policy

Last five articles by Chris


There are no comments, yet.

Why don’t you be the first? Come on, you know you want to!

Leave a Comment