Wahey hey hey ya! They’ll kill the old man for his boots!
Sometimes, I just stop and think to myself: “Gosh, I wish my SHMUPs were more rogue-like, and featured an old man with the beard the size of an outhouse harpooning elder gods in space”. Well, actually no, I never think that, but if I did, then Blacksea Odyssey would be a gift from the gods. Taking place on the boundless, inky black starsea, you are a bounty hunter entering an inter-dimensional tournament to determine who is the greatest monster slayer of all.
The real gameplay innovation in Blacksea is the harpoon. With your mighty sea lance, you can skewer a vulnerable part of an enemy beastie, attaching yourself to it with a rope. After you’ve worn down said body part with spears and you see the “Rip it!” prompt, you can then tear that fishy organ from the offending sea creature. This dismemberment feature can be a huge boon in combats with end-level bosses. For example, you can tear off an offending giant squid’s poison sac, preventing it from spraying you with his toxic goo from that angle. Of course, the harpoon is a double edged sword – uh, spear – as it will tether you to an opponent, resulting in an often undesirable effects like being swung around, right in front of a giant, gaping maw ready to eat you. The harpoon is a weapon that requires you to weigh up risks and rewards each time you use it.
Between levels you’re treated to a mini-custscene where the four bounty hunters who constitute the main cast chat to eachother. These often prickly exchanges can be quite entertaining, and you feel more competitive for it as each of the four bounty hunters, including yourself, are competing for the best score across the campaign. You also have access to the shop where you can buy various items to improve your spear (your basic attack) and your ship. No matter how badly you want the mini-Cthulu shopkeeper Ta’bi to repair your ship though, he won’t. This means preserving your health between levels is all the more important, and each campaign feels incredibly tense.
Helpfully though, one thing that is kept over between levels are your upgrades. There are all sorts of handy items, including one that leaves and ice trail in the wake of your ship, freezing and slowing any pursuing mutant barracudas trying to have you as a snack. Every playthrough is different as levels are proceduerally generated, and the upgrades and items you’ll find in tresure chests throughout the levels can vary wildly. Also, you can unlock different harpoons to start off each playthrough, further varying the fish-impaling proceedings as you have to mix up your strategy.
Blacksea Odyssey seems like a great jumping in point for folks like me who find traditional SHMUPs a bit too repetitive, and want something with a bit more character building. Blacksea Odyssey is well worth checking out if you fancy dipping your toe into the roguelite starsea. You can find this astro-nautical adventure on Steam where it is currently in Early Access. Also, check out my Let’s Play below, where you can watch me screaming in terror at the hideous beasts and attempting a freestyle rap to the effortlessly funky shop music.