Black Future ’88 is uncompromisingly hard, often repetitive, and very short, but those things haven’t stopped me from having a blast tearing through it.
Released last week on PC and Switch, the game takes place in the aftermath of a nuclear apocalypse engineered by the architect of a giant skyscraper. Everyone’s lost track of time so it’s always 1988, and everyone’s slowly dying of radiation so you only have 18 minutes left to live. What better way to spend that time than scaling a cyberpunk tower with a mind of its own to try and get revenge on the person behind the end of the world?
There’s no shortage of twitchy action roguelikes with throwback pixel art graphics to choose from these days, but Black Future ’88 manages to stick out thanks to its relentless speed, frenetic presentation and pulsing electropunk soundtrack. It’s quick to pick up, easy to get the hang of, and so devastating in its fatalistic view of how the world ends that I’ve fallen in love with it despite its flaws.
First, a quick rundown of how the game works:
- The tower is procedurally generated and consists of five zones, each book-ended by a boss fight.
- There are five characters you unlock through playing, each with perks (like extra ammunition) and drawbacks (like low health).
- There are 50 separate weapons, ranging from long-range railguns to katanas, and 30 upgrades scattered throughout the tower, each with pros and cons.
- There’s a dash button.
- Loot you leave behind gets eaten up by the tower, making later rooms even harder to fight through.
- Your guns automatically target enemies who are in range.
That last bullet point is important because it completely changes how you play this type of side-scrolling bullet hell game. Rather than worry about aiming as you dash back and forth through the chaos, you can simply fire your weapon and focus on avoiding danger. This would break other games, but Black Future ’88 has enough stuff going on that this auto-targeting simply helps level the playing field and let you focus on pretending you’re in The Matrix and using an invincible force to transform cyber-garbage into futuristic fireworks.
While there are no real cutscenes and only the barest amount of world building, Black Future ’88 still comes alive thanks to a great soundtrack and lots of camera effects and sinister voiceovers, almost as if your play-through were being commentated by a self-aware arcade machine AI. If you dig the vibe of playing a game that looks and sounds like it was dropped into a vat of melted down VHS magic, this game has you covered.
The flaws I mentioned above, though, can’t be ignored. The game is short, even if play-throughs go longer than 20 minutes when you add in downtime at merchants’ shops and gaining back time from defeating bosses. It’s also repetitive. After a dozen attempts, I feel like I’ve seen most of what the tower has to offer. What I found has still kept me wanting to come back for more, but there’s certainly not the same amount of variety or depth as you’ll find in similar games like Dead Cells and Wizard of Legend.
There are also still bugs. People have reported loading into rooms that instantly kill them because of how they were arranged, and the game, despite having some pretty low recommended settings, still occasionally drops frames when a lot is going on. There’s co-op, which I haven’t tried yet, and which some players have also claimed is buggy.
Black Future ’88 has a ton of room for interesting additions and updates down the road, but even if it didn’t get any of them (aside from cleaning up some of the current bugs) it’s still something I’d be running to show my friends. Like one of my favorite electronica EPs, its neon-fueled horror show just totally gets me, even if that experience only lasts a brief amount of time.