Ever since humans looked up and saw birds soaring through the air, they’ve had the desire to fly. However, being cursed without wings, we had to use our creativity to come up with ways to explore the sky. We created planes, balloons, blimps, gliders, and in a fantastical sense, airships. The idea of a flying boat has become a fantasy staple and Black Skylands by Hungry Couch Games revolves around it. As a sky pirate out for revenge, you’ll need to arm yourself, build up a home base and upgrade your airship to handle the horrors of the horizon. In such a vast sky, bad weather is the least of your worries.
Why Are We Shipping Out?
When it comes to games set in the sky, we usually just accept it as the norm. Some stories provide reasons as to why people fled to the sky, but Black Skylands presents it as this is the way it’s always been. You play as Eva, a young girl living on a large airship with her family and community. Years following a dangerous incident on her birthday, Eva’s former ally has since taken it upon himself to build a pirate army under the guise of protecting the various communities. Following an attack on her home, Eva sets out to liberate the islands from the pirates’ tyranny and find a way to weather a monstrous storm that threatens the whole sky. This is not just a call to adventure, it’s a shout.
Things Are Ship-Shape
When building any sort of ship, you want it to be the right shape. Black Skylands manages to get a lot of the geometry right. One shape is the fullness and activity of the sky. You’ll spend a lot of time sailing around the sky looking for items and resources. While some sailing games suffer from a lack of content, these skies are filled with things. You’ll encounter objects to mine, ships to fight, places to fish and random islands while sailing around. There’s rarely a dull moment and you’ll need to be ready for anything.
Then there’s the diversity of the gameplay which is split into three distinct areas: Combat, exploration, and management. There’s a healthy mix of airship battles and ground assaults which have different feels to them. You’ll need to do a fair amount of exploring to find resources, people, upgrades, and enemies. What adds to it is that the management is dependent on your desire to explore and fight. Saving islands provide people and resources to expand your base so you can get stronger and explore further.
Focusing on combat, both types can be very lively and challenging. Enemies can quickly gang up on you so you’ll need to stay sharp and keep moving to survive. It’s tense, exciting, and tests your skill.
If there’s one thing you want to avoid while sailing, it’s going overboard. You want to keep as many objects and people inside the boat as possible. Unfortunately, Black Skylands loses a few things over the side. The first of these is the sailing itself. While it’s fun to explore and there are lots to encounter, the ship slows it down. Because you’re in the sky, sailing is very slippery and floaty. Sharp turns aren’t really possible and this becomes a real issue when being attacked by several enemies at once. Expect to crash into things, whether you wanted to or not.
Something else lost over the side is the gathering mechanic. Resources and objects of importance take the form of crates which you’ll need to carry to your ship or a warehouse. You can only carry one crate at a time and each tends to contain only one quantity of the resource. So, if you find a pile of resources, you’ll be running back and forth a lot. Warehouses are convenient for transferring items between items and the ship but not every island has a warehouse. Even though resource gathering is necessary, it could be less tedious.
Lastly, a comment about aiming during combat. Your shots need to be quite precise when attacking enemies. This can be an issue when you’re being swarmed and trying to stay on the run. This means you’ll resort to spreading weapons like shotguns and machine guns rather than rifles or pistols. Though, you’re stuck with the narrow shot Hookshot.
Docking At The End
Black Skylands is a top-down action/adventure game about exploring the skies and freeing them from danger. There’s exciting combat, lots to see and do yet it all blends together well. There are some problems with slow sailing, precise aiming, and tedious resource gathering which you’ll need to get used to doing. Once you’ll do, get behind the helm and sail around on and to cloud 9.
TechRaptor previewed Black Skylands on Steam with a copy provided by the publisher. It's currently available on Early Access and will launch on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.