Black holes are neat but dangerous, wormholes probably don’t exist, and if they do, don’t work how we’d like them to, and time travel is simply improbable, if not straight up impossible. But while we already know these things*, we gladly suspend our collective disbelief every time we watch a movie, read a book, or play a game involving one or all of these things as integral parts of their story.
And that is fine.
So, with our disbelief left suspended at the door, what’s Superthumb’s 2D puzzle-platformer Black Hole Hazard all about, besides black holes? Honestly, I’m not entirely sure as I haven’t beaten all 150 levels yet, but from what I’ve been able to gather, the general story begins this way.
You’re Dr. Albert Armstrong, a senior researcher at the International Nuclear Research Center who, while attempting to repair a module for an experiment aimed at creating a small black hole, is knocked unconscious by a large explosion (presumably by said black hole’s creation). When you awaken you find yourself in the vast openness of space (presumably wormholed far away), accompanied by only your jet/laser gun (or so you presumably think).
You travel through these wormholes to move from level to level, each of them culminating in a boss “fight” that advances the story and turns the page to the next chapter. Each chapter introduces the player to something new, from varied floor tiles, dangerous enemy shapes, stationary and moving lasers, and even changes in gravitational pulls, much like a black hole. Because space is naturally a motionless vacuum when left uninterrupted, Dr. Armstrong is forced to use his jet/laser gun to propel himself around levels rather than walk.
Picture someone using a fire extinguisher to push themselves while in a rolly chair.
You aim with your mouse and take off with the left-click. Where you aim will determine which way the gas pressure will be released, carrying the Dr’s body across the screen. The longer you hold down the mouse, the faster you’ll move, and the harder it’ll be to control and/or stop. This jet gun also fires lasers at enemies, but its battery has a capacity limit that only allows x shots until you are required to wait for it to recharge. More battery packs can be found hidden in different levels, 26 in total, increasing your initial shot count exponentially. 68 log file fragments can also be found, but, unlike the battery packs, expand and advance the story in their own meaningful way. I have a feeling that BHH’s two endings are determined by whether this collection is completed or not, but that’s just my own guess. If they don’t, they at least flesh out the world and help you read the Dr’s thoughts a little better.
Unlike its lore, BHH’s visuals remain understated. Basic shapes make up the majority of the title’s environments and enemies, both being typically monochromatic outlines of their representations. This simplicity helps unify specific objects, ensuring you’ll never confuse a block with an enemy, or a laser with a boundary. This is especially appreciated when moving quickly across the map, enabling you to pick off enemies while spotting a safe space to land. Cut scenes are implemented with repeat animations used for characters and camera shots featuring extreme close-ups of our hero’s face and helmet pressed against the glass. It’s archaic, but not at all distracting, as you’ll primarily be reading subtitles since there aren’t any voice-overs.
Aurally, BHH reminds me of a blend between Mass Effect and Super Metroid, sometimes favoring one or the other. The soundtrack definitely has a futuristic feel throughout, with synthesizers providing the few yet varied soundscapes, from the almost reminiscent synth-heavy driving rift of Mass Effect & Super Metroid’s main themes (minus the midi horns) to the ambient and skeletal arrangement of Super Metroid’s Crateria Underground. Unfortunately, BHH doesn’t quite have the production value of, nor anywhere near the sheer number of tracks that either game did, but the obvious focus here is gameplay without distraction.
So how did I feel about Black Hole Hazard?
Have you ever found something you didn’t know you needed? Maybe you wanted something at some point in time, you never got it, and then one day you just stumble upon it at a garage sale or somewhere completely unexpected and it all clicks. Or perhaps it was something you once liked but forgot, and now you’ve rediscovered it after someone reminded you of it? That’s the feeling I got when I played Black Hole Hazard. It brought back the High School years when flash games started becoming a big thing, and talented game designers cut their teeth on sites like miniclip, addictinggames, newgrounds and armorgames. A golden age of small, quick games that felt original and fresh, with interesting mechanics that went deep within their time and space. These titles were created and provided for free to all; they weren’t just a cash grab of stolen content with new sprites (I’m looking at you Angry Birds: it was better when we were knocking over castles with cannons. I mean, do we really need 16+ titles of the same re-hashed formula over and over? That’s a rhetorical question, Rovio. We all know the answer is a resounding “No.”). But even though the selection was large and the experiences were short-lived, it was all fun.
I had a great time playing flash games and am kinda sad I stopped. Black Hole Hazard took me nostalgia fields, and while it doesn’t look the prettiest, while the music isn't the best, it is still addictively fun. The puzzles from level to level gradually increase in challenge as you learn and master new tricks or ideas, pushing you to better handle the two-button control scheme that never changes. Each chapter’s new mechanic helps keep the concept fresh and exciting. End chapter's boss challenges you to take everything you’ve learned and condense it into a heart-pounding race for your life.
Simply put, Black Hole Hazard is a grown-up flash game from yesteryear. A bareboned experience focused purely on gameplay. It takes the small concept of propelling yourself through space, and it greatly expands upon it to galactic levels throughout 150 levels of top-down, challenging puzzle-platforming that’s only played with one hand! An abundance of collectibles, the addition of time-attack challenges for each level, plus a survival mode with random maps adds to the already abundant amount of content and replayability. This is not a title to pass up, especially with such a humble price tag as the only barrier to entry.
*If you didn’t already know these things, I’m sorry I spoiled science class for you, but on the bright side, cognitive estrangement will simply make this story more whimsically believable to you.