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Under the Radar: ‘Black Bird’
‘Under the Radar’ is a series dedicated to the unknown titles that many players might have missed. These can range from games that no one’s ever heard of to known titles that haven’t seemed to gain any traction for one reason or another. The aim isn’t to pore over the title in a critical fashion, it’s to celebrate the qualities that make it unique and fun to play.
WARNING: This series almost always contains spoilers, so proceed with caution!
A little girl takes a walk down the street one day. She dies. All the people passing by ignore her. So naturally, she turns into a demonic entity resembling a crow’s head called the Black Bird. Simple enough, right?
That’s how Black Bird starts, and things only get more insane as the game progresses. Black Bird is a horizontal shmup that has the player traveling left and right through a looping stage that features a plethora of enemies and bases to destroy. Once all of the bases have been blown up, it’s time to fight the boss. Rinse and repeat for four stages and then you’re done.
Yes, you heard that right, four stages. The game can be completed in around a half an hour from start to finish, and while that may seem short to a lot of people, it’s more about the replayability than the length. The goal is to rack up as many points as possible while collecting gems and destroying enemy bases in order to fight the boss. Movement is fast and fluid, and racking up combos by killing enemies back to back is an extremely satisfying feeling.
The Black Bird grows in size after a certain amount of gems are collected, becoming more and more grotesque as it evolves. It starts off by shooting small bubbles out of its beak, but slowly adds more bubbles and even small birds to its arsenal after it levels up enough. It’s an exciting mechanic that rewards you for fast paced gameplay and racking up as many consecutive kills as possible in order to grab the most gems.
The Black Bird is also equipped with a “bomb” of sorts, but just like everything with this game, it’s completely ridiculous. Activating the bomb absorbs all incoming enemies and shots, with the area of effect increasing every time the black bird grows from collecting gems. The animation that plays during the bomb also becomes more… disturbing with each new level gained. Getting to the bird’s final form and using a bomb produces apocalyptic results that will likely haunt you for the rest of the week.
Level 1 starts you off in the same town where the girl dropped dead during the game’s opening cut scene. Naturally, it’s time to take your revenge on the the citizens that didn’t even bother to glance in your direction during your time of need. They’ve got guns, they’ve got jetpacks, they’ve got towers. Once you’ve wiped the town out, it’s time to fight none other than… a hot air balloon? With Santa Claus in it?
This kind of insanity is prevalent throughout the entire 30 minute experience. You’ll visit a field outside of town, and bustling city filled with lights, and a weird factory housing a god-like being resembling a bird. It’s really not that challenging of a game either, and you’ll likely wonder why exactly this experience is worth the $19.99 asking price once the credits have finished rolling.
Then “True Mode” unlocks, and everything changes.
The Fun Begins
Black Bird goes from being a relaxing shmup to a hellscape of enemies and bullets. Bosses become faster, bullet patterns become more intense, and enemies spawn at much faster rates and behave much more aggressively than before. There are even new enemy types and secrets to discover along the way, however the core mechanics of the game remain the same. Destroy the enemy towers, collect green gems, and become the horrifying giant bird head you were meant to be.
True Mode makes Normal mode feel like an extended tutorial. This is the real game and likely where you’ll be spending 99% of your time. Even though it’s technically the same length as Normal mode, it’s going to take many more tries to conquer than its easier counterpart. Racking up the highest score won’t be your primary concern here; simply making it to the end is a task in and of itself.
The final boss has been changed the most when compared to Normal Mode. It has two additional forms to battle through, with the final form being especially challenging. If you don’t come into this fight with enough bombs and a maxed out Black Bird, you might as well start planning your funeral.
Losing never feels frustrating due to how short and quick the game feels. It’s tempting to jump right back into the game after getting creamed because you know it’s not going to take long at all to get to the end. There really isn’t anything else like it either. Even though there are other shmups that play similarly, there certainly isn’t anything else out there with these kinds of aesthetics. It’s a game you can return to time and time again simply because of how exciting its fast paced gameplay is.
Other than that, it just feels special. It’s obvious that a ton of love was put into this game and the devs didn’t have to stray from their vision one iota. In a genre that can sometimes be way too by-the-book, Black Bird emerges as a phoenix of creativity and exciting gameplay.
Does Black Bird look interesting to you? Have you actually played/heard of it before? Let me know in the comments or on twitter! I’d love to talk to more people about this awesome game!