Black Skylands Review
Developer: Hungry Couch Games
Genre(s): Open World, Action-Adventure, Top-Down Shooter, Nonlinear
Platform: PC (Also available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One)
Age Rating: PEGI 16
Release Date: 9/7/2021
A code was provided for review purposes
Welcome to the Black Skylands
Pirates are a pretty versatile group. Whether it’s on the high seas, in space, or on a distant planet. If a pirate’s involved then you know what kind of adventure you’re in for. On its surface Black Skylands ticks many pirate boxes. You’ll be the captain of your own ship, travel to interesting places, go on grand adventures, tackle someone wanting to destroy your way of life, and even find treasure. However, rather than taking place on land, this adventure sees you heading to the skies – and your boat…it’s an airship!
The premise of Black Skylands sees you take control of a young girl called Eva. Set in the vast skies of the planet Aspya, Eva and her clan live in relative peace on a massive floating settlement called the “Fathership”. Eva’s father is one of the Earners’ top explorers and his latest expedition has seen him inadvertently discover a deadly new species dubbed “The Swarm”. These monsters soon swarm across Aspya and devastate most of the human population. One particular deadly attack sees the Fathership nearly destroyed, and a lot of its population killed – one casualty being Eva’s father.
Jumping forward a few years and then now adult Eva is tasked to follow her father’s footsteps and bring an end to the threat of the Swarm. To do this Eva will have to form alliances with the local population, free settlements from bandit control, and also restore the Fathership to its once prestigious state.
At its core, Black Skylands is a top-down adventure game that plays a lot like a twin-stick shooter. However, it also has quite a deep RPG-esque element with a touch of base-building and settlement management too. It all makes for quite an interesting game that when coupled with the freedom to do what you want, gives everything a relaxing feel. Aside from a few skills unlocking via story progression, there’s never any urgency in what you want to do. Fancy rushing through the story? Or how about rescuing a few islanders from them pesky bandits? Or maybe a little of everything? Black Skylands is your adventure. So how do these individual elements work?
Airship Mcship Face
Your main mode of transport through the treacherous skies is your trusty airship. This vessel is essentially your home from home. It’s highly customisable, and features a wealth of different interchangeable parts for you to upgrade. There’s also various models to choose from too, with each having their own stats and abilities. Regardless of what airship you end up using, each also comes with a cargo hold so you’ll always have a safe space to store that loot. Each airship also needs fuel and ammo which can be acquired from floating gas stations, or by ransacking your enemies.
Naturally you’re not alone in the big blue and quite often you’ll have to contend with bandit controlled airships, and even the Swarm itself. Combat is quite entertaining and you’ll often be wrestling with your ship’s position whilst maintaining your own firing arc. Of course your enemies also fire back, which does lead to some pretty frantic battles.
Away from air combat, nearly every island has someone who’ll shoot at you too. At the start of the game you’ll be battling bandits who’ll have their own vessels. Not only this but some islands will also feature fortifications such as floating cannon emplacements, giant perimeter walls, and even larger vessels. As mentioned above, the Swarm also start to play a part in this combat loop. At first they’re a bit daunting, but after a few battles recognising their patterns becomes second nature. However the tense and thrilling feel of the tight air combat never dampens.
When it comes to ground combat the fundamentals behave much like a twin-stick shooter. You’ll control Eva with one stick, and aim with the next, all whilst performing dashes and rolls to avoid the incoming fire. Combat can be very fast paced and the enemies aren’t shy in rushing your position. Thankfully Eva does have quite a stocked arsenal of weapons at her disposal with each being upgradable as well.
Aside from weapons, Eva also has a grapple gun at her side. This is arguably the one mechanic that you’ll need to master the use of as you progress. This grapple has a wealth of uses which filters across both air and land combat, as well as general exploration. It’s quite robust and as such you’ll be able to attack enemies with it, reach floating islands, board enemy vessels, and even save yourself from falling.
If you do happen to die it’s not the end of the story. Black Skylands has a decent checkpoint system which depending on your circumstances will either see Eva respawn on her airship, or back at base. While respawning at home can lead to you having to backtrack, it does allow you to research that upgrade, or buy a piece of equipment that could end up saving your life.
Throughout the adventure the Fathership is your base of operations. From here you’ll be able to upgrade the tools of your trade, as well as research components for your airship, and other fancy skills. Much more than just a base, the Fathership is also Eva’s home, and during the game’s opening scenes it suffers a catastrophic attack. As a consequence many of its once proud standing stores and farms now lie in ruins, and its decking is littered with splintered boards and other debris.
As you venture through the world you’ll be able to gather materials that can be used to restore your home. While you don’t necessarily need to restore the Fathership, doing so does allow you to craft the aforementioned upgrades. Aside from this you’ll also be able to farm crops which can also be sold for coins, or used to craft other items. It’s an endless cycle of farming materials, building, and crafting, but everything is optional – and done at your own pace.
Black Skylands is presented within a colourful and highly detailed pixel style. The world of Aspya is vast and there’s a lot of variation with different biomes and enemies that all come together to make this word feel lived-in. In fact the world is so large I’m pretty certain I’ve not yet seen the majority of what it has to offer. On top of this there’s also a free expansion titled Ice Kraken which is something else I’ve also not yet encountered – and I’m not looking forward to it!
Black Skylands has been in early access for a while now. While I can’t comment on how the game has grown since its initial release it’s clear to see that Hungry Couch Games has a clear plan of action. While on occasion the game’s combat can feel a little unforgiving (especially with certain boss characters) the overall story has been well crafted and is backed up with a rich, vibrant world that’s teeming with life. For those of you – like me – who have fond memories of Skies of Arcadia, Black Skylands is a game you’ll instantly fall in love with.
Rapid Reviews Rating
4 out of 5
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.