Blackwind review

Indie games are often designed to arouse nostalgia for the 8-bit and 16-bit eras. Occasionally the 32-bit era, too. When Drakkar Dev set about creating this top-down mech hack ‘n slash/shooter hybrid, we very much doubt they hoped to bring back memories of the Xbox 360/PS3 era. Or more specifically, a half-baked licensed movie/cartoon tie-in from that time.

It has all the hallmarks of a typical licensed game circa 2010, from the unrefined mechanics to the inane amount of padding, which in turn give it a ‘rushed out the door’ feel. The protagonist and their accompanying storyline could have easily leapt from a Saturday morning cartoon too – plucky teenager James is thrust into a mech suit during a collision, and after crash landing on an alien planet, begins a search for their father while discovering the suit’s capabilities.

Blackwind Xbox screenshot

Blackwind may initially appear to be an arcade-style shooter – the kind a dime a dozen these days – but it’s actually a story-driven adventure. Over the course of its 6-8 hour runtime, you’ll travel across deserts, forests and snow-covered mountain ranges while battling small groups of aliens (note: not waves), solving puzzles, upgrading the mech’s abilities, and taking on the occasional boss.

The first thing you’ll likely notice is how it rarely feels like you’re in control of a colossal, highly advanced, mech suit. It doesn’t stomp around, causing shockwaves and destruction; it feels lightweight and underpowered, even unable to lift and throw objects. The mech is equipped with boost jets, a glide and dash, plus it’s strong enough to tear appendages off foes, yet puzzle sections involve such feeble pursuits as creating a path with objects hooked up to a crane, making makeshift stairs using pipelines, and activating switches the mech’s drone should be able to reach.

It also doesn’t help the mech’s prowess that roughly half the game is spent in dull, cramped, indoor facilities that are mostly formed of long corridors and maze-like ventilation systems.

Blackwind Xbox screenshot

After a few hours, the world map opens slightly, but because mission objectives are vague throughout – with no destination waypoints or markers – this often results in unnecessary backtracking. Making matters worse, the camera is inept at best and broken at worst – it hides branching paths off-screen, jolts and jitters during transitions, and flips inappropriately. When performing dash jumps – a mechanic with its own issues – it rarely shows the intended landing zone either.

While undernourished, the combat system isn’t broken in the same way other components are. It is, for the most part, functional. That’s to say, it’s adequate. The mech can shoot from afar or deal melee damage with spinning blades. Only one enemy type must be dealt with up close, though, which seems like a missed opportunity to mix things up. Every enemy can be dealt a brutal finishing blow, but these soon grow tedious – irritatingly so, as they’re required to regenerate health.

On a more positive note, the upgrade tree is well thought out and improvements are noticeable. The four main upgrades also help induce variety, introduced at key points during the storyline.

Blackwind Xbox screenshot

The mech’s drone is another one of the better features, if not entirely for the right reasons. It can be sent into the air vents to find passcodes and unlock doors, and it also packs a similar level of firepower to the mech itself – with the reason being a second player can take control. However, the drone can also be used to break the game; it has a purposely/stupidly low altitude, but by grinding along walls it can be sent sky-high, bypassing puzzles and the regular means of obtaining upgrades.

Other positive features are few. It can, in places, look quite nice thanks to the lighting effects and detailed textures. The mech skins are appealing too, mostly being influenced by pop culture. The skin’s names are rather on the nose, shall we say. The same goes for the experiment list found within the science lab mission, which namechecks a bunch of well-known fictional characters with no effort whatsoever to disguise them. Cheeky.

Blackwind Xbox screenshot

If the broken camera, cramped indoor sections, and occasional glitch didn’t kill your enthusiasm for Blackwind, then the fact that it has no respect for your time surely will. It will happily let you have a crack at a puzzle even if you’re yet to find the required upgrade. It’s also very fond of nonsensically placing locked doors and switches several rooms apart – while randomly failing to highlight switch locations on the map.

More damaging is the amount of backtracking, even forcing you to trudge back through entire facilities once a boss is beaten instead of using a cut-scene. Talk about taking the (Metal) Mickey.

There is, presumably, a reason why Blackwind has turned out so poorly – it’s doubtful the developers were happy with the result. Our best guess is that they ran out of time or money. Or quite possibly both. Unless there’s a group of gamers out there fascinated by the ineptness of once commonplace movie tie-ins, it’s highly unlikely to find a following.

Blackwind is published by Blowfish Studios. Available now on PS5, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series, Switch and PC.