The year is 5027, and humanity has conquered the entire galaxy but can't quite manage to keep its citizens under control. Bounty hunter Black Paradox is on a mission to take down a band of particularly nefarious intergalactic space criminals known as the Hellraisers, and his Delorean-style space car Star Phoenix might just be the key to victory.
Black Paradox is a roguelike shoot 'em up that keeps you on your toes by changing things up every single time you play. You'll meet the seven bosses in the same order, but the enemies and power-ups you encounter along the way are randomised so there's no way of knowing what the game might throw at you. One minute you'll be happily weaving in and out of some light enemy fire, then suddenly you find yourself in full-on bullet hell. Each of the 60+ enemy types have their own unique behaviours so you can at least get to grips with their attack patterns, but their projectiles - which themselves can explode in pretty much any direction you can think of - all look very similar. With so many bullets on screen at any one time, it becomes very difficult to distinguish one type of shot from another, making it tricky to position yourself effectively out of harm's way.
Help is at hand though, with 20 weapons to discover, two of which can be carried at any time. There are corrosive shots that melt enemies away in a fizzy shower of bubbles, the Moroder sends wavy musical notes across the screen, there's a flamethrower, bladed circular boomerangs, all kinds of stuff. Combo attacks can be performed by collecting various combinations of specific weapons, and nearly 40 additional power-ups are available.
As with most roguelikes, Black Paradox can be pretty difficult, but you can buy upgrades to help your next run each time you die. These come in the form of microchips that can be equipped into four empty slots. Higher level chips become available as you progress through the game, and all come with a useful upgrade (adding a shield or chance to fire extra powerful shots, that sort of thing) as well as additional buffs to your health, speed and attack power. Swapping out these microchips means you also replace your stat buffs with whatever's attached to the new chip, meaning you might gain a handy upgrade but lose some all-important stats, which unfortunately leads to progression feeling slightly uneven at times.
To get further into the game, luck often really needs to be on your side. You're likely to find yourself playing the first few levels many times to upgrade your ship before being strong and durable enough to tackle later stages. The random enemy placement has habit of occasionally throwing out some insane configurations that fill your screen with seemingly unavoidable baddies and bullets even in the very first level, leading to some runs ending before they've even really had a chance to get going. You'll encounter different environments and music during each attempt though, as well as different enemies and power-ups, so even if it takes a while to get past the first couple of bosses, it never feels like you're just playing the same levels over and over.
The pixel art graphics are excellently done, with some vibrant backgrounds and really stunning flashy and sparkly explosions. The thumping electro synthwave soundtrack is equally fantastic - award-worthy, we'd say - fitting perfectly with the game's 80s aesthetic. Blasting away at wave after wave of enemy ships never gets old thanks to some incredibly satisfying gameplay and the massive amount of possible combinations of enemies and weapons you can come across, but after a while it can start to feel like you're not really getting anywhere. A host of updates are planned for the coming months, adding even more content to what is an undeniably great game that any shoot 'em up fan should definitely pick up, but we'd love to see a few tweaks to the progression/upgrade system to really elevate this to classic status.
BLACK PARADOX / DEVELOPER: FANTASTICO STUDIO / PUBLISHER: DIGERATI / PLATFORM: PC, PS4, SWITCH, XBOX ONE / RELEASE DATE: 3RD MAY