Project Black Sun Review
Metroidvania is one of my favorite game genres, because of the way it combines platforming, action, and exploration. Unfortunately, games in the genre have been rare, so I was excited for Project Black Sun.
Developed by Starflower Games, Project Black Sun is an action-platformer with strong elements of exploration, using lock and key mechanics to access new areas, and find hidden upgrades to increase your health or ammo capacity. You play as a nameless young man going for a jog in the woods. The Jogger comes to an unexpected halt when he stumbles into an abandoned mineshaft teeming with monsters. What is the titular “Project Black Sun”, and how will you escape?
One thing you’ll note upon starting up a new game is just how good the sprite art looks; The Jogger’s movements look fluid, and the creatures and bosses you’ll face look menacing. Along with good looking character sprites, the game has great backgrounds. From crumbling mines to lush green gardens and underwater temples, you’ll visit several colorful and unique locations. To tie the visuals and gameplay together is some fantastic music. Each area has its own unique theme, each of which has a sense of wonder, mystery, and adventure to it.
As you progress you’ll find Angel statues which act as checkpoints, and when you die you’ll respawn at the last Angel you passed. What sets the checkpoints here apart from other games is you’ll retain your progress, even if your last checkpoint was prior to finding upgrades or killing a boss. You’ll face four tough bosses throughout the game, and upon defeating them you’ll gain a key that allows you access to new areas for you to explore.
No Metroidvania is complete without exploration, and Project Black Sun delivers. You explore to find new powerups to help you progress, such as hand grenades to destroy specific blocks, along with the classic double jump. There are also upgrades which increase your pistol ammo capacity, grenade capacity, and health capacity. By default you start the game with two hearts of health, ten rounds of ammo, and only one grenade when you first discover them. Also scattered throughout the game are ten silver coins, upon finding all ten you can access a secret room to gain a special powerup.
The gameplay of Project Black Sun is well done, for the most part. The controls are precise, the platforming and shooting feel good, and every powerup serves a purpose. You can also rebind the keys to fit your preference. One unfortunate aspect of the gameplay is the aiming; you can only aim left and right, not up or down. There are few enemies you have to worry about attacking you from above, but it would have made some encounters – and even some bosses – much less frustrating.
One of the game’s biggest strengths and weaknesses is its brutal difficulty, I would go as far as saying Project Black Sun is the Dark Souls of Metroidvania. As stated earlier, you start off with very little, two points of health — meaning two hits and you’re dead –, and ten rounds of ammo. The games checkpoint system works similar to Dark Souls’ bonfires. If you make progress — like finding items and killing a boss — but die with your last checkpoint being prior to all that, you’ll still retain those found items and that boss will still be dead, but the enemies you just killed all back of course. Having limited ammo and health encourages you to approach with caution. It adds fun challenge to the game.
But at the same time the game can be less of a legitimate challenge to put your skills to the test, and more just artificial difficulty. Artificial difficulty is when a game uses unfair tactics to make the experience more challenging, as opposed to putting your skills to the test, like Dark Souls. The lack of aiming in directions other than left and right has made some encounters with bosses and enemies very frustrating, especially when one of those enemies can move through walls. Along with that, some of the bosses have attacks that are totally unpredictable or are just totally unavoidable. I found myself repeating certain battles dozens of times.
Another thing is finding the hidden upgrades doesn’t really feel optional, it feels mandatory. You just can’t defeat some bosses without having a good amount of ammo, whereas Metroid you’re still very much capable of defeating a boss with minimal upgrades.
Overall I’m very on the fence about Project Black Sun. One part of it was an enjoyable and challenging experience, but the other part was also absurdly difficult to the point that I was almost willing to give up the game entirely. The demo is available for free on the game’s official site, maybe give it a try before deciding to buy it.