Black Skylands puts you in the shoes of a sky explorer, tasked with entering mysterious lands and eliminating The Swarm: an evil legion of creatures hellbent on taking over the floating islands that serve as your home.
Our precious planet Earth has, by undetermined circumstances, been turned into an array of thousands of floating islands in the sky. In this new world of opportunities and tribulations, airships and jetpacks are the futuristic tools of the trade, while buildings and agriculture maintain a style resembling the Colonial Period.
The journey begins with jumping off a platform jutting off the edge of an island and using your jetpack to zoom yourself over to your airship. From there, you take off into the blue yonder to distant islands in order to find and rescue a villager captured by armed brigands. In the air and at the mercy of your wide-turning airship, there are several obstacles to worry yourself with, besides your steering.
Floating mines seem to have been carelessly placed everywhere, and will explode if shot or careened into. These mines can also be used as weapons if you time their explosion correctly, taking out flying creatures that also seem to be plentiful in this world of clouds. Your cannons will make short work of them too, but physically turning your ship to aim them at these assailants presents its own set of steering problems. It’s fun to fly, but the airship by itself provides a challenge between lands.
On land, you’ll find all sorts of characters that mean to maim and kill you. Some human enemies brandish melee weapons, such as spears, while others will riddle you with holes with a multitude of munitions. The twenty-plus guns come in all shapes in sizes, ranging from pistols and shotguns to more powerful weapons such as sniper rifles and grenade launchers. While your adversaries seem to have an unlimited supply of weapons and ammo, you are required to scour for both. Weapons are placed strategically around the islands, offering you more of a solution to the current problem than an ‘all-you-can-shoot buffet.’ Each gun has limited ammo, and while enemies and crates can drop additional packs, you’re caught in a balancing act often flipping through available weapons to figure out what you can use to take down the pursuing force coming your way.
In addition, alien-like creatures called The Swarm are just as — if not more — dangerous than the assembly of human warriors and gun-toting baddies. Swarm enemies can lunge at you with little warning and some of the more bulbous types follow you, ticking, and explode when you are near, causing serious damage in their wake. Finding yourself in a firefight with humans while these creatures also bear down on you makes the game exciting and challenging, but you can use environmental items such as crates and walls to hide behind and offer you temporary shelter from the onslaught.
With its charmingly gorgeous pixel art and orchestral score, Black Skylands offers up an epic adventure in the skies, full of danger and mystery, with some unique additions to the top-down shooter genre. With guns galore combined with its open-world format, there’s plenty to see where the sky is no longer the limit.
Black Skylands is planned for a late 2020 release but I got a chance to play it at PAX South 2020. Wishlist it on Steam and follow on Twitter for more information.