Black Skylands is populated entirely by idiots.
That’s not a complaint about the quality of the game, mind. While this Steampunk-style shooter from Hungry Couch Games and tinyBuild is in the early stages of development, it shows a lot of promise. But you have to question the sanity of the people who choose to live on Black Skylands’ series of floating islands, many of which are barely big enough to hold their houses. How do you tell Little Jenny that, after a mishap with a tennis ball, Fido took a nosedive into the abyss? How long before someone steals the McGuffin that powers the islands?
It’s a blessing that your character, while a bit daffy, at least has the common sense to own an airship. Black Skylands promises to divide your time between blasting enemies on land and roaming the skies taking out airborne foes. It was the latter that caught my attention, even though the short demo I played had plenty of shotgun murder.
Your airship lives up to its name, being as manoeuvrable as your average galleon. It’s not clear whether the final game will have ship-to-ship combat – but just roaming around, firing my aft and broadside cannons independently, was more fun than it had any right to be. The icing on the cake was the way a little sail popped out each time I turned left or right.
But, finding no enemy craft to challenge me I crossed the map, smashing into several smaller islands along the way, and reached my destination; a destination which, to no-one’s great surprise, had been taken over by bandits. Black Skylands’s publishers describe it as “Bioshock Infinite meets Enter The Gungeon” and while there’s (currently) no eating from bins, combat was as frenetic and forgiving as those titles’ tougher modes.
Your (finite) jetpack is an essential piece of kit for leaping across gaps, but what threw me was that, standing on these levitating lumps of rock, it was a lot harder to make a hasty retreat should you need to.
Black Skylands’ graphics are charming, even when you’re smearing someone across the landscape. The area I explored resembled Stardew Valley‘s fields, gorgeous but with the added risk of jetpack-related fatalities. The enemy design, too, seems full of charm; the foes I encountered were largely human with the odd razor-armed monster thrown in.
As a taste of things to come, Black Skylands held my interest. I’m intrigued by the idea of roaming the game’s final landscape, dispatching justice if and when you can be bothered to stop gawping at the scenery. If that sounds up your street – and by ‘street’ I mean a series of aerial walkways that are disturbingly free of handrails – you can take to the skies later this year.