Title: BLACKSAD: Under the Skin
Developer: Pendulo Studios
Publisher: Anuman Interactive (formerly Microids)
Genre: Adventure, Crime, Noir, Mystery
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Age Rating: PEGI 16
Release Date: 28/11/2019
Price: £35.99 – Rapid Reviews UK was very kindly provided with a review code for this title.
An Anthropomorphic Noir Adventure
I first saw BLACKSAD: Under the Skin in the pre-order section of a Dutch gaming website in the middle of last year. It immediately caught my eye. A noir, private eye style story with anthropomorphic characters. It reeled me in with the look of the game and the unique style of the cast.
So naturally, when the chance came to review this game, I just couldn’t say no.
It wasn’t until after I started playing it that I did some more research that I realized it was actually based on a Spanish comic book by the same name. The game tells a totally unique story but with the same cast and characters as in the comic.
But how did the game stand up to the expectations I had of it? Did it deliver a gripping mystery that had me pacing around the room with my switch in hand trying to solve all the clues I had been given? The only way to find out is to keep reading.
Smooth Jazz Soundtrack
I’ve mentioned in previous reviews that more often than not the soundtrack is something I rarely pay attention to in games, or rather, is the part that catches my senses the least. For Blacksad however, I must admit, I really enjoyed the music that ran through almost the entire game.
It was a soft jazz soundtrack and while I am not sure of the songs or the artists, it was certainly one of the more relaxing and enjoyable soundtracks I have heard in a long time. It wasn’t overpowering and complimented the style of the game very well. Used as a tool to immerse the player rather than as an individual entity.
Fun Gameplay but Awkward Controls
Blacksad is an interesting game, and it is clear that a lot of thought went into the product. That much I feel needs to be said from the start. Not everything I have to say is going to be positive, but I can see the care and thought that went into creating the game.
Played in the third person, you take control of John Blacksad, your classic private detective figure. I really like this character type, the flawed and mildly depressed antihero who on the surface care little for themselves, and I’m pleased that the game stuck with this trope.
Overall, I found the controls to be a little cumbersome. The tank controls were irritating, but that is more personal preference than anything else, and I really missed just being able to pan the camera around freely. The controls could also feel somewhat sluggish at times. Not so much an input delay but rather just, that the movements seemed slow as if everything was done against the grain of some invisible resistance.
There are several core aspects of the gameplay which interweave with one another throughout the game.
You control Blacksad as he investigates the apparent suicide of a boxing manager. Talk to NCP’s uncover clues and information. QTEs appear at random times to help you navigate the action sequences. I enjoyed these, especially the fistfights, where you needed to actually watch the screen and dodge the right way to avoid the punches.
On top of that, you had your senses that allow you to focus on three different elements. Sight, scent, and audio. These moments were crucial to the gameplay as they gave you extra clues to help you navigate the immediate future.
The final element, which I really liked, were the deductions. As I mentioned, you gathered clues as you went around the world, and someone these were stored for future use as deductions. The only issue I did have with the deductions was that sometimes the links between the clues were at best, and in one particular case seemed almost contradictory. While often you could use logic to put them together, there were instances where you had to just employ trial and error until you got it right.
Depending on the different choices you make during the game, from character discussions to the end analysis of the case, there are several possible endings you can achieve. Unfortunately, my game kept crashing on me, and I never actually got to finish it. I had several crashes early in the game, where it just closed and pushed me back to the Nintendo Switch home screen. Towards the end, however, the game continually crashed at the very same point and after half a dozen attempts get through it, I just had to abandon ship.
BLACKSAD: Under the Skin will forever be the unsolved case that haunts my dreams.
Sports Hall of Fame Cards Abound
There are a lot of collectables in the game. These are found in the form of Hall of Fame sports cards. These are scattered through the different locations and can be collected and placed into a sticker album. The collectable cards cover a range of different sports and depict different fictional characters. It shows a depth of thought that went into the game, and credit is due for the dev team for doing this.
I didn’t come anywhere close to collecting all the cards, and while bugs and technical issues halted my completion, I was a good 85% of the way through the game and was nowhere near that close to having all the Hall of Fame cards.
Reviewing the Evidence and Reworking the Case
Given that there are multiple endings to the game, there is a built-in degree of replayability, however, after having put a good twelve hours into it, I have no real desire to play through it again just to make a few different choices.
It’s not because it’s a bad game, there is a lot of good and interesting components, it just misses that something that really draws you in. The speed of the game also holds me back from venturing back into it. With that, I mean the character movement speed and the scene changes. Some general performance enhancements could help make the game that much more enjoyable.
Just One More Thing
Yes, that heading is a shameful Columbo plug. Yes, I’m that old.
I really wanted to enjoy the game, but I want to say that I enjoyed it more than this review may make it sound. Sure, some crashes halted my progress, but the game itself was enjoyable. If the devs could correct the sluggish movement controls and maybe reduce the load times, then the game would be that much better.
I am interested in learning more about the graphic novel and the world the game is based in, which should certainly be counted as a win and should a second game be made, I would definitely be interested in playing it.
I’m keen to add this to my physical collections, and that should say enough for anybody still on the fence about whether to take a gamble on this title.
Rapid Reviews Rating
You can buy your copy of Blacksad Under the Skin from the Nintendo eShop today.