Blackhole: Complete Edition is a 2D side-scrolling platformer. Playing as a member of the crew aboard the spaceship Endera your mission goes array in the exposition heavy opening minutes. After the titular black hole causes your ship to crash, you awake on a strange blah blah blah – I’m sure you get the idea.
The story setting up Blackhole is nothing we haven’t really seen before, but what it sells itself on is its challenging gameplay and as a love letter to 2D games. This works to a point, but for me there was just something else missing that I couldn’t quite put my finger on that meant the time I spent with Blackhole wasn’t as fun as I initially anticipated.
The area you first wake up in serves as the games hub, which links all the levels together. Each level is a self-contained “room”, containing platforms and white walls that shift the gravity by flipping the level around – I found that doing this too often caused my head to spin, as the level literally flips around the centre point of the TV in one quick blur, so be warned. Hidden around each level are floating blue orbs known in-game as selfburns, that serve as the games collectible under the guise of them being able to repair the ship, and often they are hidden in a way that means you have to carefully plan your route, only flipping the gravity if you are certain you can still reach the levels exit point.
Each level is a short affair containing a certain amount of selfburns to collect, and the level can be completed as soon as you have picked one up – but really who does that? Collected selfburns can be used to access more areas in the main hub, which in turn gives you more access to later levels, so leaving a level early before collecting them all only means you will have to return to it later. These self-contained levels are never very big, but it is timed completion that has a heavy focus – upon completing each level you are presented with the usual leaderboards and the option is there to replay it if you think you can shave any precious seconds off your time. This is always an addictive gaming hook, and it is more so here as pressing triangle immediately restarts the level should you make a mistake and need a do over. By the time I hit level 1-4 this was taking a heavy toll, and it is clear from how quickly the difficulty picks up that there is no hand holding or quick fixes to be found in Blackhole – the levels are tricky and do tax you heavily should you want to collect all the selfburns a level contains.
One of the few things that did bug me when playing Blackhole is that it is heavy in narration, from the cutscenes setting up the story to the AI who accompanies you on your travels who clearly likes the sound of her own voice. Some of this dialogue is necessary, offering advice or moving the story a long, but I found the vast majority to be a little superfluous to proceedings and it was a physical effort not to skip through it all. This came about relatively early on in my playthrough, which wasn’t helped by the fact that you freeze in place whenever she decides to pipe up with some pearls of wisdom.
A lot of this extra dialogue is there to lay the groundwork for jokes or set ups within the game, but some of these felt a little overdone or missed the mark entirely – for instance a very early example has one crew member repeatedly trying to pronounce some sci-fi sounding doohickey aboard the ship, to be repeatedly mocked by the AI’s continued response of “Negative”. I’m sure you get the idea from my brief synopsis here, but this joke goes on repeatedly for what feels like a lifetime during the game’s opening when all you want to do is jump into the action, and this only served to turn me off to what was happening as opposed to paying any attention to the dialogue that was playing out. Happening so soon in the game meant that my first impressions were soured a little, and I had to actively try to pay attention when I finally got to control my little space faring adventurer should I miss something important. The option is given upon starting to minimise the amount of dialogue you are given, but this is designed more for returning players or speedrunners as opposed to those that pick up a game for a story, and I don’t really know what I feel about this – if I can turn dialogue off, is that dialogue necessary to the game’s story? Maybe some character development? And if it isn’t – what is it doing in the game at all then? Don’t get me wrong, you can skip this dialogue too, but being able to turn it off for the sake of speed runs seems a little too far the other way from not being able to skip anything at all.
The controls in Blackhole are tight, and clearly designed to test even the most ardent platforming fan, with one missed jump often meaning you have to restart a level completely in order to successfully finish it. Blackhole is often rage inducing to the point of throwing things, and it does toe the line between enjoyable and annoying, and with me this was a very thin line. As a result, I am torn between saying I loved playing Blackhole and I hated playing Blackhole in equal measure. I loved the nostalgia it induced in me from being a child and one game having to last me months, so it being difficult only meant I could spend more time with it. I enjoyed replaying each level step by step as I was able to work out the correct order to collect the selfburns, or when to use the gravity walls to flip a level around, and I did genuinely feel pleased with myself when I managed to complete a level and collect them all. How much of this is all wrapped up in a nice nostalgia bow I don’t know, but I will be honest enough to say a good part of it.
Equally alongside my enjoyment there were parts that I really didn’t like, and this might be the most controversial thing I have ever said about a game in that it is at times too difficult. Now a little part of me that considers myself to be a gamer just died inside, but let me at least try to explain what I mean. It comes back to what I said about games being tough when I was younger and me accepting that because I knew I wouldn’t be getting a new one either until my birthday or Christmas, but here’s the thing – I am not that gamer anymore. Not only do I have a job that means I have my own money to spend on games when I want, but I also have other commitments that mean I can’t spend hour after hour getting better at one game, never mind one level. That to me just isn’t fun anymore, as I don’t need to do it to make things last. Games have moved on too, and so many top quality titles are out there calling my name that it takes a lot for one game to absorb a lot my time, and for me to accept that and be happy about it. I think that what Blackhole does wrong is it gets too tricky too soon, before I really gave a monkeys about who this new character I was controlling was or what I had to do. Typing that out does seem a little weak of a response, but I know that my frustrations quickly overtook what fun I was having while playing so that the game simply stopped being fun anymore – that, and it takes a lot of things that I’ve seen before and doesn’t do anything new with them so not only was I stuck at some of the trickier parts of the level but I was bored, and the witty banter that the AI gave at regular intervals just didn’t adhere me in any way to it.
If you consider yourself a die-hard fan of the 2D side scroller, or have a deep insatiable longing for games gone by Blackhole: Complete Edition might just fill that void but be warned, some tricky levels and seemingly unobtainable collectibles mean it is guaranteed to push some buttons, and not just on your controller.
Blackhole: Complete Edition PS4 Review
A homage to 2D platformers, Blackhole: Complete edition definitely has that old school difficulty going for it, reminiscent of days gone by. If you enjoy difficult platformers that will test your patience as much as your reflexes, Blackhole: Complete Edition might just be worth a look.
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a digital copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Reviewed using base PS4.
Stuart has had a long and lengthy love affair with video games, since he first woke up to find Santa had left him a Sega Master System complete with Alex the Kidd built in no less. Since then, his thumbs have become calloused and he has missed many a nights sleep in the pursuit of those elusive “5 more minutes…” but his love has never wavered.