Ross is a writer, educator, and performer who lives and works in NYC. When he's not doing any of the aforementioned activities, he's playing video games.
We recently published an interview with Don Bellenger (aka Super Scary Snakes) about his forthcoming melt-your-face-off roguelike, and since he was kind enough to let me have early access to a demo of the game, I thought I’d share a few details about the game’s premise and mechanics and what I found overall entertaining about the Black Future ‘88!
If you’re into punk rock, psychedelic light shows, and dystopian sci-fi narratives, Black Future ‘88 is right up your nerdy, rough-and-tumble alley. Playing it feels akin to moshing, lasers blasting from both hands, through a crowd of killer robots in a house party that goes on forever. It’s a climbing roguelike and the basic idea is that you have 18 minutes to make your way up a skyscraper with numerous robotic enemies and bosses, on a one-way mission to bring down the AI-network-run-rampant, SKYMELT. Imagine Blade Runner on LSD and in sketchy pixel art with music like Mega Man but way more hardcore.
When it comes to roguelikes, Black Future ‘88 sets itself apart from the pack. First off, the pixel style is purposely unpolished, which gives it a distinctly punk-rock vibe — sketchy in a good way, you know? And what’s even cooler is how the music takes prominence over the visuals. The tracks are obviously the driving creative force, not the levels, so it feels more like playing an interactive album than just a platformer with synthpunk blasting in the background. This is hands down the most remarkable aspect of the game. Each section, i.e. story or level, of SKYMELT has its own musical blueprint, and as you make your way through them, the tracks evolve, increasing in tempo and volume before exploding into choral concertos as the controller rumbles erratically, which all feels downright radical, and it should, after all; it’s a cyberpunk game.
Cyberpunk, as a genre, is a bastion for radical politics, and Black Future ‘88 is rife with political subtext. It is a kind of cautionary tale about a not-too-distant future in which the advent of artificial intelligence has taken its toll on humanity and is bringing about an end of days and you only have 18 minutes to prevent the end of the world as we know it. The setting of the game — a collective AI hivemind in the form of a giant building — is a metaphor for humans getting too big for their britches and meeting a very hubristic demise. Heavy, right? If you’re not comfortable with such raw and very real themes, be warned: Black Future ‘88 isn’t for the faint of heart.
Conversely, if you identify with certain radical ideologies, you’ll probably dig it. Without spoiling anything, what little I saw of its narrative in the demo, it felt like I was playing out a mash-up of Terminator 2, Judge Dread, and Blade Runner. The gameplay keeps you on the edge of your seat, especially with the speakers turned way up, and will definitely quicken your pulse. The animated cutscenes are top-notch, too, and the weapons and upgrade systems are nuanced in that they revolve around the scarcity of ammunition in the game, making it more of a battle of attrition than most other roguelikes. Plus there’s couch co-op to top it all off!
As I mentioned earlier, the visual/audio experience of the game is beyond incredible and really pushes the boundaries of what roguelikes can do in terms of how they viscerally impact the player as a sensory experience. Disclaimer, though — if you’re prone to seizures, steer very clear of Black Future ‘88. Every floor of SKYMELT is an insanely cool light show, only the shows can kill you, literally. So watch out.
For fans of the genres mentioned above, you really couldn’t ask for much more than what Black Future ‘88 brings to the table. For those looking for a platformer with picture-perfect pixel art, the edgy aesthetic, aggressive attitude, and radical politics of this game may not necessarily be for you. But try it before you knock it. Check out our interview with the dev and the trailer below if you’re still on the fence. It comes out later this year, and to quote its creator, the game is “punk as fuck.”