Black Skylands: My First Early Access Experience

The idea of playing games in Early Access was always interesting to me. If you don’t know what Early Access is, allow me to define it: basically, you pay to play a partially finished game, and support it as it develops over time. Of course, the biggest risk is the possibility of the game having to be abandoned for whatever reason. One such thing apparently happened last November with Among Trees. However, there are a lot of popular Early Access games, such as Raft, Death Trash, and Satisfactory. There are also some that are more off the beaten path, such as Black Skylands.

In Black Skylands, you have your usual race of humanoids who live on sky islands (or skylands, hence the title drop). This world, known as Aspya, has been plagued by the Swarm (a common noun turned into a proper noun, as is tradition). The main protagonist is a girl named Eva, and her dad is captain of the Earners. He has a crackpot plan to journey into the Eternal Storm because he thinks the solution to beat back the swarm is there. However, when scientists bring back a sample of a Swarm creature, everything falls apart. Seven years later, Eva has to fix everything herself.

It’s easy to impulsively buy Black Skylands because it is gorgeous. I’ve grown to love pixel-art, and how deceptively versatile it is for conveying different artstyles. This game is vibrant, and full of color. As you sail on your skyship, you’ll see creatures of all sizes that are just there for cosmetics; from flying manta rays above you, to massive behemoths that thankfully hang at much lower altitudes. Unfortunately, the nature of the game’s top-down perspective can make characters look the same in the overworld. That’s why they have their portraits during dialogue.

The weakest part of the game is no doubt the story. A lot is thrown at you very fast, and the worst part is the catalyst of all of it: the aforementioned incident regarding the Swarm creature. In its aftermath, this dude named Kain turns into a maniacal sociopath, whose faction, the Falconers, pillage and murder the people of Aspya in some twisted sense of justice. It’s your usual “absolute power corrupts absolutely,” and the worst part is why. He gets mad because his bird died in the incident. While I can’t imagine the grief from losing a pet animal, I don’t exactly think it’s a reason to form a dystopian government.

Fortunately, Black Skylands shows fantastic potential even in Early Access. In fact, I’ve played finished games that were worse. There’s a ton of stuff to do in the overworld, most of which is on the various skylands. These are full of resources, treasures, quests, and more. By defeating all enemies on a skyland, you reclaim it from the Falconers. Doing this rescues the population, who for some reason, act as a currency to enable special passive upgrades. Islands can be retaken, but it doesn’t happen that often, and the game at least shows a time limit on the HUD (something I’m pretty sure other games with similar mechanics don’t do).

Inventory management can be an issue. Your skyship can only hold twenty items at first, and they don’t stack. Quest-relevant NPCs you need to transport are stored in crates and count toward that inventory, which is admittedly pretty funny. The rub is that essentials for your ship to not go derelict, such as fuel canisters, repair kits, and ammo boxes, take up this space as well. 

There’s a lot to do in your main base of operations, the Fathership, as well. This place has seen better days, and it’s up to you to fix all of it from the ground up. Like in many games of this kind, you consume resources to build facilities that produce more important resources.

The best part is customization. There are a ton of weapon types and playstyles to pick from. Most weapons can have mods installed, which can be crafted or found in mod crates scattered across the world. Your skyships also have a wide variety of components to equip. Unfortunately, equipment tends to become useless fast, since you can level up facilities faster than you can get all the resources necessary to craft every piece of equipment, allowing you to get the next tier of equipment.  

Yes, I said skyships just now. Once you build the ship workshop, you can buy new types of ships and new parts for them and modify literally every aspect of them. As of this review, they only have four types of ships. From what I can tell, there are no cases where you need the little lightweight ship to fit into a narrow passage (although there are some really narrow passages that I have NO IDEA how to get through). 

There are also artifacts. By solving puzzles scattered throughout the world, you obtain crystals that grant you and your ship cool abilities. These are very helpful, and naturally, they can’t be spammed. Eva’s artifacts have a cooldown period, and the ship consumes energy, the latter of which can be replenished by destroying the many asteroids scattered throughout the world, or flying enemies. It doesn’t regenerate over time or when you take it to the shipyard, which kind of sucks, because I don’t think the asteroids respawn either.

Combat is where things get interesting. Black Skylands has a fun mix of range and melee combat. You have your arsenal of guns at your disposal, but it’s encouraged to use your grappling hook for sneak attacks, or to yeet people off of cliffs. Your only source of healing is medkits, but refills tend to be common enough.

Speaking of the grappling hook, you better learn that thing fast. It’s your main source of movement over the vast skies below. Fortunately, if you fall, you don’t immediately die. For some reason, you can somehow try to grapple the nearest grabbable ledge and save yourself. It’s really nice, especially when you’re learning to use the darn thing.

Skyship flying can be difficult at times. They seem to have so much momentum that once they hit top speed, I could let go of the gas and it would move forward perpetually until I hit the brakes. Also, the cannons on them are… interesting. They point at different angles depending on the ship, which makes combat a bit weird. Also, the controls are kind of bizarre; you can only shoot just the right cannon or all cannons. The Annihilator Beam artifact helps because it is a head-on frontal attack. 

So far, Black Skylands is surprisingly difficult for a chill sandbox game. Once you’re asked to go to the ice region, the game really starts to test your grappling and fighting abilities. Fortunately, dying has virtually no penalty… not that I would know that from experience, of course *sweating emoji*.

One thing that can end up being a downer is that fast travel costs money relative to the distance from point A to point B. This sucks because you need money for a lot of things. It’s plentiful enough in the overworld, but it’s amazing how fast you can empty your pockets. One protip that you’re never taught is that cabbage, the cheapest crop to grow, sells for an obscene amount of money for such a common resource. As far as I know, cabbage isn’t used for anything else, so they probably intended for them to be your main source of income.

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Current Verdict: 8.75/10

Black Skylands could become one of this year’s most underrated games once it’s complete. Hopefully, that’ll actually happen, considering that this isn’t as popular as the aforementioned Early Access titles. As fun as it is, the lack of many facilities, among other small things, betrays its incomplete state. If the game gets cancelled, I’ll update this post with that information. Otherwise, I highly recommend you give it a try if it strikes your fancy, and support its development by doing so.

Copy Kitty: Megaman Meets Bullet Hell Meets Kawaii Neko-Chan

I owe 100% of my knowledge of this game to one of my favorite YouTuber/Streamers, ProtonJon. The game is VERY under-the-radar on Steam, but someone was able to donate for it during Jon’s 2020 BCRF Charity Stream. The game looked insanely fun, but brutally hard. I’ve played a number of games considered tough, but I have not bested them at their pinnacle. Copy Kitty may or may not cause me to hate myself.

In Copy Kitty, you are the kawaii cat-girl, Boki. She wants to be a superhero, but has to be content with the next best thing: a simulation game made by her uncle Savant. Only one thing left to do: blow up a LOT of robots.

This is a shooter-platformer, so the story is simple, really. But to be honest, who cares about the story in a game WHERE YOU BRING ABOUT CYBER-CARNAGE EVERYWHERE?! The thing with Copy Kitty is that Boki, well, copies the powers of defeated enemies, Megaman-style. Boki has limited ammo, but can replenish it by collecting more of the same drop from other enemies of that type. In addition to that, any of the three weapons you can have on-hand (with the exception of Solo Weapons) are automatically combined into another, more powerful weapon type. 

With this incessantly simple idea, Copy Kitty becomes one of the most intricate and insane shooters I’ve seen. The different weapon combos all have unique effects, all of which look ridiculously cool. Take time learning them because the game will require different combinations to get through certain stages. 

Of course, the thing I was worried about the most was the game’s difficulty level. The campaign is pretty balanced for the most part. However, the controls took getting used to for me. You’re locked into eight-directional aiming, and you cannot move and shoot at the same time. Even worse, your very helpful dodge ability cannot be used in midair. As someone who’s played a lot of games where you COULD do that, well… just be glad I don’t stream videogames.

But here’s the catch. What I described before was just the standard playthrough. Beating the game as Boki is just the beginning. After that, you unlock Hard Mode. It’s not just a harder version of the game, though; it might as well be a completely different game, continued directly after the main story. The stage layouts are the same, but enemies and bosses are way different. Hard Mode is, to put it lightly, push-you-to-your-limits-ridiculous. I haven’t even beaten it yet, and I probably never will.

And even if I did, I would have to do it again (along with Normal Mode) as Savant, who has his own unique playstyle! Seriously, the guy’s a savage! He has less health than Boki, but his perks more than make up for that little detail. First off, he can freely fly, which makes a lot of things (like a certain recurring miniboss) easier, plus his dodge is a lot better (even if it has a stamina meter). The problem is mastering his method of attack. Savant’s weapons fire out of a little window, which is manipulated by the player at the same time as Savant himself. Only two weapons can be combined, and it has to be done manually. To offset an otherwise lack of variety, the order in which weapons are combined produces different results. Depending on the weapon used, Savant’s window will either follow him, cling to walls, and more. Coordination (and a lot of mashing the B button to reset his window) is key to mastering Savant.

However, the game still isn’t done yet! There’s also Endless Mode, which is, actually, one of the more forgiving modes of its kind. Healing is pretty generous, and you can start from every five waves. There is a LOT to it, though. Each set of ten waves is contained within a specific biome, of which there are thirty-seven. Beat the biomes on Normal Endless Mode to unlock additional, harder variants with the other biomes. Also, try Pandemonium, where every enemy attack pattern is randomized. Plus, a rare enemy encountered only in this mode will unlock the secret 13th world in Story Mode.

If this game didn’t seem enough like capital punishment for completionists, then here’s more. There are also marathon and boss rush modes, which are self-explanatory enough. Also, every state of the campaign has a Target Damage limit, and not taking more than the indicated amount of damage gets you a gold star for the stage. Fortunately, this condition doesn’t exist whatsoever in Hard Mode, which still makes Copy Kitty more lenient than what you’d expect. And one more thing that I can’t dedicate to a new paragraph, the Steam Page implies there’s a level editor. I couldn’t find it; it’s probably locked behind some insanely hard prerequisite.

As far as looks are concerned, Copy Kitty is very appealing. Although the 3D textures look a bit bare-bone, the character designs are quite memorable. Plus, the sensory-overloading violence, especially if particle effects are set to the highest intensity, is extremely pretty. The backgrounds are very cool and cyber-y as well.

The soundtrack is very EDM-heavy, with some rock elements. Despite how little I care about either of those types of music, Copy Kitty’s soundtrack is solid, with good enough variance. The problem is that I consistently ran into a bug where the sound effects would just die, and I would have to lower the game audio to insanely low levels to barely hear them. And since I got so used to it like this, the occasion they came back on made the game feel really overwhelming and it was hard to concentrate. It’s a shame, since the sound effects are really satisfying. I’m new to PC gaming, so it might be a problem with my sound card (I know ProtonJon didn’t have that issue when he streamed this).

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Final Verdict: 9.25/10

Copy Kitty is a fantastic, replayable arcade shooter that’s well worth the money. Just keep in mind that, depending on how non-gamer you are, a lot of it could be above your paygrade.