"It starts out so innocently. An evil wizard kidnapping a damsel. A brave knight to the rescue, determined to save the day. Leaping onto the sturdy back of his dragon mount, the chivalrous warrior departs to face whatever dangers come his way. "
It starts out so innocently. An evil wizard kidnapping a damsel. A brave knight to the rescue, determined to save the day. Leaping onto the sturdy back of his dragon mount, the chivalrous warrior departs to face whatever dangers come his way.
And so begins Black Heart, an obscure 1991 horizontally-scrolling shooter designed for the sole purpose of sucking the wallets of unsuspecting gamers dry. Like I said, this game starts out innocently -- but as you progress through its eight stages, you’ll encounter a spike in difficulty so drastic that even staying alive seems an impossible task.
You’ll likely be completely unprepared for the brutal difficulty introduced in the third stage. As you start the game, things seem fairly non-threatening. Ride your small draconic steed through a forest setting, shooting down airborne foes while watching out for leaping trees (which also may be eradicated). With graphics that are somewhat cartoonish in appearance, Black Heart initially looks like a child’s game -- the sort of thing that may be a fun diversion for the serious gamer, but nothing more. After a scant few moments of this simple region, the forest gives way to a castle exterior and an easily-dispatched boss.
While the need to maneuver around walls while blasting several mobile spike-laden obstructions makes the second stage a bit trickier, any semi-skilled shooter vet should still find the going pretty easy, reinforcing the theory that Black Heart is mere child’s play. I hate to break the news to you, but that theory will get shattered beyond repair in the third level.
From this stage on, players will be confronted with labors so daunting that even the great Hercules would halt in his tracks and throw up a white flag as the prospect of continuing. A brutal combination of a non-stop assault coming at you from the front combined with a substantial number of hazards unexpectedly slamming into you from other directions proves quite capable of causing Black Heart to devolve from a decent (if unspectacular) little shooter to an unplayable mess.
Let’s face it -- in a horizontally-scrolling shooter, what is a player’s first reaction when confronted with obscenely powerful forces popping up in front of him? Well, if I’m that player, it is to move to the far left side of the screen to give myself the largest amount of time possible to lay waste to the enemies before they can knock me out of the sky. Sadly, that’s not a feasible solution in Black Heart. There you’ll be, perched on the far left edge of the screen when suddenly.....SMASH!!! Enemies fly in from your rear, finishing you off before their presence even registers in your brain. Even worse, these sneaky foes come onto the screen at a dead sprint, ensuring that you’ll likely be toast if you’re anywhere NEAR the left edge at the wrong time.
Then, to add even more misery to the mix, the designers apparently got the great idea to add a few more little pitfalls to an already difficult quest. Remember those mobile spiky platforms from the second level? They continually make their presence felt throughout the game -- typically by unexpectedly falling from the sky at a high rate of speed, wiping out your knight and dragon immediately.
A well-designed power-up system may have helped alleviate some of the cheapness this game possesses, but I wasn’t able to find any such thing. Your dragon initially can shoot a straight-ahead series of shots with the option to also release a gout of fire (powerful, but with a short range). During my playing of Black Heart, the only supplements to these basic attacks I was able to find were three angels, which, for all intents and purposes, are the same as the “options” in Gradius. So, what you essentially have is a brutally difficult game with your main enhancement being a small amount of additional firepower which likely will be taken away from you immediately after it is obtained (repeated deaths on your part tend to remove the angels from the fray).
To counteract the excessive difficulty of the game, each of the eight levels are pretty short. Sadly, for the most part, they are very similar in appearance. That opening-level forest offers one of the few glimpses you’ll get of the great outdoors, as the other seven stages spend most of their time sending you through various castle-like settings and their extensive collection of drab yellow and brown walls. With the exception of the jumping trees of the first stage and a couple of the bosses, most of the enemies are equally bland and nondescript. The final boss of the game isn’t some hideously grotesque demon inspired by the paintings of Bosch -- rather it’s a small, bald guy in a robe. Sure he emits enough magical destruction to eradicate most armies, but on an aesthetic level, he could be the lamest final foe of any shooter ever created!
It almost feels as though the creators of Black Heart want you to completely focus on how unceasingly brutal their game can be. With very little in the way of eye candy, there simply is nothing else to focus on besides how quickly your lives dwindle under the onslaught of infinitely superior forces. From the moment you begin that third stage until the second you stop, you’ll be following a strict and unrelenting schedule of “shoot, shoot, shoot...die, die, die...insert coin...wash, rinse, repeat.”
And that just isn’t going to hold my interest. When a game is so dominated by an unfairly harsh degree of difficulty that every other aspect of it becomes insignificant, something is wrong. When I get the sneaking suspicion that no player could possibly possess enough skill to make it through the majority of Black Heart’s stages without suffering multiple casualties, things get even more wrong. All this game delivers is a collection of short levels that are lacking in creativity and fun, but all too capable of delivering massive amounts of frustration. Anyone can play Black Heart, but it takes a true masochist to actually enjoy the trials this game holds.
Community review by overdrive (July 06, 2004)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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