Harpoon Space Frogs in Blacksea Odyssey

It’s only been a few months since Blacksea Odyssey completed its Kickstarter but, with a very playable demo available during the campaign and work proceeding feverishly ever since, it’s already time to release on Early Access.  The Old Man’s spear and harpoon are ready to tear into the most dangerous prey in all of space, and their teeth and horns are sharpened to eviscerate on back.  Hunting the swarms of beasts that live in the reefs of the black gaps between worlds is not a job for the weak or unskilled, and even if you get through the brutal encounters on the way to the boss trophy at level’s end, there’s no guarantee you’ll arrive there in any shape to survive.

Blacksea Odyssey is a game about hunting the biggest, meanest creatures ever to prowl the depths of space, although the hunt isn’t so much about stalking an unsuspecting beast as it is surviving the pack attempting to rend your flesh from your bones.  Giant butterflies open up down the middle to reveal a gaping maw of teeth and fury, huge three-headed space frogs poison you with a massive tongue-strike, piranha swarms that only seem small because each individual fish is merely twice your mass rather than the usual 10x or greater attack from all sides, and massive spiky armored bosses don’t let up their attacks for a second.  It’s dangerous out there, and even being a grizzled old veteran of many a space-hunt armed with endless spears and a powerful harpoon isn’t enough to guarantee survival.

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Speed and a relentless offense, on the other hand, are incredibly helpful in not dying.  The Old Man flies through the randomized reefs of space on what’s basically a rocket-powered surf board flinging spears into his prey, and the powerful harpoon charge-shot is used to tether him to the various creatures and rip of their limbs when they’ve been weakened enough.  Sink the harpoon into a fin or leg and then pummel it with enough spears and it starts flashing red, indicating that when the harpoon is torn out it will also take the appendage with it.  Depending on what’s been removed it can slow the enemy down permanently, remove an attack, or frequently deal enough damage to kill it outright.  Most creatures take a serious pounding before they go down, and it’s almost disturbingly satisfying to rip chunks of them off before taking them down for good.

While you can only pull a few pieces off regular enemies, bosses take a lot more work to clear out.  The point of each level is to defeat the giant boss monster that calls that section of space its home, and while you can fly around the level looking for enemies and power-ups, there’s no getting out of there until the king monster is eliminated.  It’s worth exploring and clearing out the smaller critters for gold and the keys that unlock chests to try for a few power-ups, some of which are single-use and others which give either surf board or spear new permanent abilities, but you’ll need to be careful balancing ambition against the potential to take serious damage along the way.  Health is scarce and precious, and a stray hit with no recovery items can be the difference between the level ending with a victory or a Game Over.  The save slot gets wiped on death, no reloading, so if you want to clear the final level 5 encounter and maybe even do it by defeating the insanely huge leviathan you’ll need to be as healthy as possible.

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Blacksea Odyssey is, however, very much an Early Access title.  While there is plenty of new content since the demo, including a very nice lighting engine and entire new biome with enemies and bosses to populate it, there are obvious minor bugs that take a bit of ignoring.  Nothing game-breaking, but inconvenient at worst.  Switching from controller for the gameplay back to mouse for the menus is a mild annoyance, and the cursor getting stuck on the pointing hand rather than crosshairs for targeting doesn’t break the ability to aim.  Spears making a corona around pufferfish, stuck where they landed when the fish was blown up big rather than contracted down to its normal size, doesn’t hurt anything either even if it looks a bit weird.  There’s work that needs to be done adding content and polishing what’s available, but everything that’s released runs well and I’ve yet to see it lock up or crash.  Balancing the odds of a key drop to the number of chests in a level wouldn’t go amiss, though.  It can be really tricky to start a good run before you get a few permanent powerups, and there’s no guarantee that a chest will cough up more than a little extra cash.

In its current state, however, Blacksea Odyssey shows that its Kickstarter demo wasn’t a fluke.  The new level and its creatures are even more challenging than the earlier ones, the new bosses are just as brutal and vicious, and the enemy designs are intimidating and mean.  It’s a big, dangerous universe filled with merciless nature that views you as a tasty snack about as threatening as a single Lucky Charms marshmallow, and it won’t be easy to change its mind.  The Old Man has a spear and harpoon, though, and between them that’s more than enough weaponry to show the dark beasts of the interstellar void that maybe he’s not mostly harmless after all.