Blacken Slash review
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Blacken Slash review

Our Review by Campbell Bird on July 22nd, 2022
Rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: FIGHTING MACHINE
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This abstract roguelike serves up micro levels bursting with variety and challenge.

Developer: Mario Kaiser

Price: $4.99
Version: 0.20
App Reviewed on: iPhone SE

Graphics/Sound Rating: starstarstarstarhalfstar
User Interface Rating: starstarstarblankstarblankstar
Gameplay Rating: starstarstarstarblankstar
Replay Value Rating: starstarstarstarhalfstar

Overall Rating: starstarstarstarblankstar

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The more abstract a game is, the more it has to sell you on its premise and find smart ways to communicate information to you as a player. Blacken Slash, a roguelike dungeon-crawler where you play as a computer journeying between nodes in cyberspace, definitely accomplishes the former with a cool neon geometric style, but struggles at times to help you master its systems and mechanics with some unclear messaging and menu design.

Computer combat

Blacken Slash is a level-based game where you play as a iridescent pyramid that battles against foes like orange prisms and teal cylinders on a dark grey gridded battlefield. These shapes are mere representations of an interior digital space where you use cpu cycles to activate scripts that attack and disable other units.

Sounds riveting, right? Or more like... confusing? Don't worry, Blacken Slash is a lot less complicated to play than it is to describe. Every level is really just a turn-based combat field where you are given an objective that you can usually complete in a few turns. Sometimes it's to kill every enemy unit in the level. At others, you need to survive for a set number of turns or reach a pre-defined point in a limited amount of turns. After each level you complete, you get some currency and perhaps some loot you can equip to make your computer stronger before moving on to a new level with tougher challenges.

Custom rig

Every run of Blacken Slash starts out dead simple by giving you a basic script that allows you to spend a cycle (i.e. action point) to move or attack an enemy next to you. Just from completing a few levels, though, you can suddenly be piloting a heavily armored mortar machine or an elusive teleporting and pushing cpu. It all just depends on what kind of random gear drops you find from the enemies you fight.

The delight of Blacken Slash is in discovering the kinds of scripts and circuits you can pick up to customize your computer to create inventive and fun ways to overcome the game's micro levels. The challenges themselves are also creative and force you to consider more than just maximizing your damage or survivability. You don't always have to rely on chance to make sure your computer works the way you want it to, either. Blacken Slash has a unique "archive" system that allows you to bank select gear to use it on future runs, though you have to earn a currency to archive items and doing so usually has a steep opportunity cost against other benefits like healing your computer between levels or getting rare equipment.

Neon nonsense

Although the game uses basic geometric shapes for most of its art, Blacken Slash makes great use of color and other effects to keep its aesthetic from looking too basic or stark. Your adventure itself also comes to life through some basic text communications between you and other cpus that give you some direction in your questing. All this is backed by a smooth synth-based soundtrack that really reinforces a sense of that you're battling your way through a digital ocean of sorts.

My only gripe with Blacken Slash is that some of its systems and iconography could be better at letting me as a player know what is going on. I can't tell you how many times I accidentally ended my turn early, or got struck by cyber lightning, or replaced the wrong piece of equipment in my loadout, all because of Blacken Slash's obtuse UI. All of this gets exacerbated when you get closer to death on a run because the game has a color drain effect that desaturates the whole game as you lose health. It's a cool effect, but in turn it makes it harder to differentiate between item rarities and other color-coded objects. Some of these issues smooth out as you get more familiar with the game or are otherwise easily reversible in the moment, but they still feel like unnecessary pain points in what it otherwise an enjoyable experience.

The bottom line

The abstract dungeon-crawling in Blacken Slash trades on its ability to mix and match its various components into bite-sized chunks of action. For the most part, it's really successful at doing that while also establishing its own unique style and brand of cool. You shouldn't let a couple confusing visual design choices stop you from picking up this game, especially since there is a lite version you can pick up to try for yourself before deciding to buy.

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