Ever wanted to fly around the stars hunting monstrous titans with spears, like a nebulous Captain Ahab? You haven’t? Well too bad, because Blacksea Odyssey guarantees exactly that.
As an opening cinematic explains, there exists a “vast chasm between space and time”, and every decade, four hunters gather to prove themselves as the superior survivalist. You begin by only being able to play as the aptly named ‘Old Man’, but felling end-game bosses like Cthulhu will unlock subsequent hunters with their own unique stat bonuses.
The hunting – the primary focus of the game – feels a little awkward to begin with. It’s controlled simply enough; the left stick flies you around this top-down void, while the right aims your spears. These are thrown by holding R2, and holding and releasing L2 will cause you to throw a menacing harpoon that can latch onto foes and drag you along behind. Unfortunately, throwing your spears lacks the meaty punch you’d expect from a game that promises visceral combat, and their low speed means it’ll take some time to learn when to throw them in order to hit your target.
Learning to master the harpoon/spear combo will get you over the initial difficulty hump, though it wouldn’t be unreasonable to call it more of a mountain. Tearing segments from these creatures with your harpoon provides a satisfying noise, but it doesn’t seem to alter their movement as much as you’d hope. Also, enemies seem to take far more damage than feels enjoyable, and what begins as a challenge gradually devolves into something of a chore. That’s not to say it isn’t satisfying to rip limbs off of enemies and alter their movement; it just shouldn’t take nearly as long to do so as it initially does.
But with a little patience and a lot of practice, tearing your way through a seemingly randomised level (each known as a ‘bounty’) becomes something relatively unique in the rogue-lite landscape. It still has the recognisable staples like permadeath and RNG loot, but Blacksea Odyssey maximises on its limited gameplay loop by making combat (sometimes) feel downright fun.
Don’t go in expecting much beyond this gameplay loop, however. Aside from the opening cutscene, Blacksea Odyssey doesn’t bring much narrative variety to the table; with character-building taking place via static dialogue boxes between bounties. This goes some way towards giving you something to care about when flying around the starry void, but it’s far from AAA writing. Still; in an indie rogue-lite such as this, any kind of story focus comes as a bonus.
The actual bonuses you’ll be picking up in-game can be accessed by opening one of several golden chests littered around the stage, which can only be cracked open by obtaining a key from a high-level foe. These chests will often contain a smattering of gold, and one or two perks that will either boost your stats, or allow you to activate fatal attacks with either L1 or R1. The gold you’ll accrue can be spent at the merchant between stages, but his offerings are often too expensive for players who haven’t fully scoured the level before taking on the boss-like bounty. More gold can be obtained by selling him your hard-earned wares, but this isn’t recommended until later on in the game, when you find yourself flush with pick-ups.
Speedy players might find their funds lacking, because you can take on the boss as soon as you’d like. By keeping track of the sonar map in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen, you can keep tabs on where enemies are likely to spawn, and where the level’s bounty is lurking. This is represented by a large, red figure floating on the minimap, and approaching this in-game will cause the colossal enemy to come floating to the surface, ready for a fight.
Alongside the fight itself, this triggers a frenzied music cue that, while enjoyable at first, quickly becomes droning and irritating. This isn’t just flagrant complaining; I genuinely had to mute the game after an hour of play, because the singular track that begins drove me insane. It may get your blood pumping, but for all the wrong reasons.
After sinking your teeth into Blacksea Odyssey, you’ll start unlocking alternate spears that each come with their own stats and traits. Some might promise a faster firing speed, while others affect aspects like your field of view and scanner speed. There’s plenty of these to unlock, but the criteria for doing so seems a little too obtuse. For example, in my several hours with the game, I barely scratched the surface of what was on offer. For what should be a convenient drop-in and drop-out experience, the repetitive nature of the game feels like it could dissuade those who might genuinely enjoy what it has to offer.
In all fairness, for what is a reasonably cheap asking price, Blacksea Odyssey gets the job done. It may not fully capitalise on the dismemberment mechanics it so proudly touts as unique to its experience, but I can’t say I didn’t have a fun time with it. The quirky dialogue might not hit the mark, and the artistic style doesn’t exactly amaze, but it provides an enjoyable experience that feels slightly above the sum of its parts. If you’re craving something a little fresh in the rogue-lite landscape, then you could go much worse than this fun little package.
It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but Blacksea Odyssey is a great example of bringing something new into a saturated genre.