Black Skylands Early Access Preview: Sky’s The Limit

Out today in Early Access, Black Skylands is a top-down retro exploration title where you'll get to loot on foot, as well as fly a hulking airship about. Plenty of GRA nostalgia!

There are no rules here in Vulgar Land. There are; I’m just trying to be cool. Black Skylands from Hungry Couch Games and tinyBuild is a top-down retro skypunk experience that launches today on Steam in Early Access. 

Though the publishers kindly supplied a review code, there hasn’t been enough time to finish the game, but, as an Early Access, I thought it was worth posting some thoughts early on. By the way, if you like Early Access titles, check out Almighty: Kill Your Gods

In Black Skylands, you play Eva, an appropriately one-eyed pirate wannabe, desperate to seek her fortune and explore the world. Note that this is a skypunk adventure, so piracy takes to the skies like a rendition of Laputa: Castle In The Sky

The story begins on Eva’s birthday as her father returns home after his last adventure. What does he give her to mark the occasion? A pistol. Her grandfather, on the other hand, gifts her a moth. Much more practical, much more companionship as it follows you everywhere. I named mine Carl.

Black Skylands - Steampunk shopping
Steampunk shopping. Source: Steam

After being introduced to your home and the mechanics of the game, you’re off to shoot bad dudes and cash in on some sky booty. Black Skylands is a rather sizeable open-world experience, though there are a few too many invisible walls at this stage when flying your ship. Disclaimer: Early Access. Stop complaining.

First impressions were of GTA – the original. From a top-down perspective, the visuals are nice and chunky, and the fluidity of movement and aiming is great. Playing on the keyboard felt a little like juggling, but switching to a controller was the right move as you do need your wits about you.

Your home is Aspya, surrounded by thousands of islands in the sky, one false step, and you’ll be testing Newton’s theory. My first death was in the tutorial stages when entering my ship. It’s not practical to have platforms everywhere (except a few toggles here and there to activate bridges), so Eva uses a grappling hook that attaches to anything solid and catapults her across a chasm. Underestimating this, I fell between a ‘gap’ and watched her health slowly disappear. In hindsight, should you fire your hook once more and not gormlessly watch her descent, she’ll resurface on land.

This mechanic is much more critical as you explore on land as there are frequent chasms you need to manoeuvre around, especially when being shot at. Like a 2D Sekiro, Eva will sling her hook about while multitasking with her aim, taking out the wrong ‘uns on the fly. On the fly – ha! Additionally, the evasive roll here not only does a Neo with enemy bullets but most projectiles, giving you a slight aura of feeling bulletproof, albeit only temporarily.

Black Skylands coming to Early Access
Source: Steam

For the most part, exploration on foot is fun. It’s here where you not only loot for new gear, speak with NPCs, visit merchants and maintain your ship, but it’s predominantly where you’ll monitor progress. As for the ship elements, this is by far the best part. Exactly the same top-down viewpoint, you’ll float across the clouds, sightseeing the numerous parallax effects below you. As tempting as it is to explore beneath you, don’t. Gravity sucks, as does the ground.

Your ship runs like in real life and requires fuel, frequent repairs, plus it can be upgraded, as per Eva. The only negative with flight is the frequent dings. A bit like Fishing: North Atlantic, even at a slow speed when docking, you’ll see tiny little numbers shoot off the ship like confetti. Alas, that’s the ship taking damage, and what with the battles, you’re going to need to carry a lot of repair kits.

And that’s a lot of what happens in Black Skylands as you frequently take on board stock to transport back and forth, making a cut where you can. Although it’s very early days for this <ahem> Early Access release, I foresee myself indulging in gameplay for months to come. Still, as with everything, we’ll see how much of the iceberg I’ve uncovered by updating this preview accordingly.

In short, Black Skylands is really good and impressed thus far.