Mechs are something of an acquired taste. Sure, you can have something with mechs that occasionally taps into mass-market appeal, like Power Rangers back in the 90s, but most of the time, if you’re into mechs, you have to be really into mechs. The problem is that outside of a few established franchises, giant robot fights can just end up feeling sort of…generic. Enter, Blackwind, a twin-sticks shooter/hack and slash game that is the answer to the question: “What if PS2-era mid-budget developers were still around and made a mech game for pre-teens?”
Blackwind is a mech-combat hack and slash/twin-sticks-shooter hybrid that puts you into the robot-suit-clad shoes of James Hawkins. Rather than being a Robert Louis Stevenson character, Jim is a teenage boy who is journeying through space with his father, a scientist who makes mechs. As their ship is attacked, James becomes trapped inside an experimental suit and unable to leave. Landing on an unfamiliar planet, surrounded by alien enemies, James and the suit’s AI must locate the boy’s father in hopes of being able to actually go to the bathroom again at some point in his life.
The gameplay of Blackwind is relatively standard for an isometric hack-and-slash game. You can move around and shoot with the left and right sticks, as well as access various powers and melee combos with your face buttons. So far, so familiar. However, there are two elements that help it shine. You can platform for one, and while platforming has been in other games of this style before, it’s actually a semi-important focus in this one. You have to complete platforming challenges to actually make it past certain points in the game.
Another point in the game’s favor is that it actually controls relatively well. While it’s true that the gameplay isn’t overly original, it does at least provide a very good example of what the gameplay should look like. You can dash from melee combos into firing rockets, chain in a ground pound, and finish the enemies off with your machine guns and it all feels pretty good. The only slight negative is that when you start a melee attack combo you get locked into the direction you were in when you started. It’s easy to compensate for this drawback, but it’s also something that requires you to get used to before you can really get into the swing of things.
If anything, the gameplay in Blackwind being as decent as it is becoming quite tragic when it’s let down by almost everything else. The story is really nothing special, and neither is the setting nor the enemies you face. The enemies are aliens so generic that it’s almost impossible to remember what they’re called five seconds after you stop hearing the name. The level design is similarly bland, with a combination of ‘underground military base/research station’ and then ‘grassland, desert, ice world, forest’ that feels like it’s been ripped straight out of 5 other video games.
Having said all that, it’s not like the gameplay itself doesn't offer a few hangups. While having platforming challenges be integral is a nice touch, making them annoying to complete is quite another thing. You do ramp up in platforming abilities as you go, but there were several times where making a jump required something so specific that I almost gave up out of sheer boredom. On top of that, during combat, you often have to ‘execute’ enemies when they’re low on health. Each enemy type has a single death animation that plays each time you kill them, and by the mid-way point, you’re going to get completely fed up of seeing it. You could just kill them normally of course, but then you’d be missing out on a lot of health orbs, and you’re going to need them.
Despite the toothless narrative and enemy design, the game itself is more ruthless than toothless. You can be shot by enemies so far off-screen that you had no chance of knowing they were going to open fire. Blackwind also has this nasty habit of putting more enemies in a location to make things more difficult, which is fine, but there are also no I-frames at all, so you can lose all of your health in less than 5 seconds, and wonder what the hell happened. As if that wasn't enough, there’s also plenty of times where my mech-suite become stuck in the geometry and I had to reload a checkpoint, which isn’t great news when you spend the game zipping into walls and railing all the time.
Possible the worst sin that Blackwind commits is that it’s just so close to being good. With a few tweaks here and there it could have been a mindless, but playable, hack and slash mech game about a kid looking for their father while murdering aliens. However, there are just so many elements missing. The game is split into dungeons and overworlds, but you only have maps during the dungeons when things are mostly linear and you need them less. In the overworld, it’s super easy to get lost if you don’t have a good sense of direction. Compound that on top of the rest of the game’s issues, and no one would be shocked to see you lobbing your controller off the nearest bridge. Preferably over a polluted river, or busy highway.
If you have a teenage or pre-teen family member who is super into mechs, they might enjoy this game. They may be lulled into a false sense of security by the smooth gameplay and fun-seeming premise, but it won’t be long before it all comes crashing down around them. Glitchy levels, boring enemies, worse world-building, and a narrative that sounds like your 12-year-old cousin wrote it are a recipe for the worst waste of potential since Mighty No 9. Blackwind ends up being a game that had so much going for it, yet is better off deleted for the harddrive space than actually played.
TechRaptor reviewed Blackwind on Nintendo Switch with a code provided by the developer. The game is also available on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S.
- Controls pretty smoothly
- Some of the skins are cool
- Some of the platforming is annoying
- Easy to get lost
- You get stuck in geometry a lot
- Enemies can quickly overwhelm you from off-screen
- There are 4 voice lines that repeat over and over again