Likely to the chagrin of hardcore shoot ’em up fans, I once had a tendency on Geeks Under Grace to tag just about any kind of non-FPS game whose primary mechanic is to shoot everything on the screen, “SHMUP.” This would include games from Tesla vs Lovecraft to AIRHEART: Tales of Broken Wings. I am certain that hardcore SHMUP fans would only recognize vertically or horizontally-scrolling games as appropriate for the designation, from Sine Mora Ex to Star Fox Zero.
I would classify Black Paradox a traditional SHMUP, and the first one I have played since I acquired a copy of Ikaruga on the GCN around 2010. Yes, it has been that long; games such as Nuclear Throne and The Binding of Isaac have demonstrated that roguelike elements such as RNG and procedural generation are popular ways for developers to maintain gamer attachment. Or, games of this type have become bullet-hells, well beyond my skill to conquer, which is why I never actually beat Ikaruga. A fundamental characteristic of SHMUPs is that they are hard.
Black Paradox is all of these things; it is a difficult side-scrolling roguelike SHMUP that at times demonstrates bullet-hell-like properties. Aesthetically, it basks in the retro 80’s, from the neon hues and bumping synthetic soundtrack right down to a flying DeLorean with dual-mounted Old Painlesses serving as the game’s default ship. In other words, this game has style down pat.
Where Black Paradox struggles right now in particular is its difficulty. “Git Gud” understood, the combination of RNG and limited accessibility to powerups—or their general lack of oomph—result in what I perceive to be either imbalance, or the kind of difficulty where the game has not supplied sufficient motivation to overcome. Every SHMUP that I have played usually includes enemies that the player can shoot and kill with minimal effort as a sort of warm-up to the tougher foes. In contrast, everything here requires multiple hits, which means that they stay on the screen longer, resulting in times where the screen can be crowded with enemies and bullets. Damage comes too easily as a result.
To get more powerful enemies off the screen, Black Paradox drops one new weapon per level. Under normal circumstances, new weapons excite me, but not here, because many of them such as the laser or railgun are slow-firing and linear even though they are strong. A game like this needs more spread, but the flack/shrapnel gun is weak. The flamethrower feels good enough even though it is close-range and a liability against bosses. Boomerang strikes me as interesting, but also feeble. The “hedgehog” is a fun concept, but it is also liable to get ships killed.
Among the bosses, I have only survived long enough to kill two of them. When defeated, they drop two items, but only one can be chosen: a defensive or offensive enhancement. Besides the one weapon per stage or the post-boss upgrade, the only other time I could improve my ship is upon death, where I can select the garage option and add microchips chips to my ship for a hefty price. Grinding money (in a standard SHMUP, these are simply points) becomes tedious, especially when prices increase for more powerful chips, yet I am unable to advance due to game difficulty.
Black Paradox intrigues me naturally, as I am a child of the 80’s and dig the aesthetic. I also tend to gravitate toward roguelikes and shooters. However, this game is currently missing a certain “je ne sais quoi” that would turn my attention away from its competition. If Fantastico Studio’s intention was to create a game with a high skill ceiling for hardcore SHMUP fans, they have succeeded. On the other hand, I would recommend easing up on the difficulty for greater accessibility and lasting appeal, particularly for single-players such as myself.