Project Black Sun

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Starflower Games for PC, originally released in 2011.
Project Black Sun is an action-adventure game that falls solidly in the Metroidvania category. The player is dropped into the world with limited resources and no direction as to where to go next, other than the fact that certain paths are inaccessible with his default abilities. As the player explores the underground caverns, he slowly increases his ammunition capacity, gains more weapons, and increases his moveset, allowing him to explore more of the world and traverse into ever more dangerous areas.

At the start of the game, you’ll find that you aren’t terribly capable or well equipped. You play the role of a boy who has fallen down through a hole into a set of underground caves populated with various creatures. Fortunately, the boy happened to be carrying a handgun at the time. This is fairly unusual for a game of this sort, because generally any game starring children takes place in a fantasy world and has the player using magic to defeat imagined creatures. Here, you’re fighting a mixture of actual creatures and those of the fantasy variety with a handgun that the character holds, fires, and reloads realistically.

You also have a limited amount of ammunition. At the start of the game, you have a sparse 10 rounds with which to defend yourself against the roving bats, rats, spiders and other cave-dwelling beings. What’s worse, bats are hard to hit and take 2 shots to kill, making it a challenge even to survive the exploration of the opening areas. Fortunately, you also have a knife which can be used for up-close kills, and for some reason, it’s twice as powerful as a bullet. Still, it saves you using ammunition, but the risk is that you must let enemies get very close to you before using it, and bats move rather erratically, making it more difficult to line up a successful hit.

Following the rules of the genre, defeated enemies sometimes drop health or ammunition, and enemies only drop items you need. So, if your health is full, you won’t get any health drops. Also, it’s possible to increase your ammo capacity by exploring the environment. Tucked away in hidden rooms throughout the world are pickups that bump your ammo capacity upward in increments of 10. You’ll absolutely need to uncover some of these because a stock of 10 bullets doesn’t last very long and it certainly doesn’t leave you properly equipped to defeat bosses.

You can also increase your health bar, which is another necessity since you begin the game with only 2 units of health. This means that you’ll regularly be sent back to your most recent checkpoint after making one or two mistakes. Checkpoints aren’t terribly frequent, but their placement is in line the action-adventure genre overall. Getting killed will return you to your most recent checkpoint with all of your ammo and health restored and all of your pickups retained, so the only punishment for pushing yourself too far into unexplored areas is having to retread your steps on your next attempt.

Bullets and health aren’t the only things you’ll find tucked around the world. You’ll also find a secondary weapon in the form of grenades, and each grenade you locate will increase your capacity by one. Grenades are much more powerful and can kill non-boss enemies in a single hit. They can be a bit unwieldy to use in combat, however, as they are tossed in an arc, so it’s easy to overshoot your target and send a grenade falling uselessly into a pit of spikes. Still, they’re good for doing things like killing enemies on a lower platform (since your gun only shoots to the left and right), and they can be used to break open certain types of bricks to access secret passages.

This wouldn’t be a Metroidvania game if it didn’t have some permanent ability upgrades as well. There are 5 items hidden throughout the world which each give you an enhanced ability, allowing for increased environmental navigation (such as double jumping) or increased firepower. Generally, you’ll encounter an area that you cannot pass, and you’ll need to make a mental note of the area so you can return later when you have the proper ability.

As mentioned, your character is not a terribly capable individual. He moves slowly, and he cannot shoot while walking or jumping. He is also restricted by the number of rounds his weapon holds in a single magazine (10), and he must reload manually even if he has additional bullets in stock. For the most part, the levels are designed around this particular restriction, but it can make for some frustrating moments, particularly when fighting bosses. Because of your slow movement speed and large hit box, it can be difficult to avoid fast projectile attacks or to return fire with any kind of speed. Given your limited health in the early going, this can be the cause of much repeated gameplay as you make multiple attempts to take down these powerful creatures.

Bosses guard the one thing that allows you to fully explore the world beyond the use of your movement abilities; namely, keys. There are 4 keys to be found in the game, all of which appear on your map from the start to give you a general idea as to their location. When you run into a room and pick up a key, a boss battle starts, and you have to defeat the boss before the exit door will open. Once you have the key, you can open any door that requires it, although you will encounter doors even in the early areas that require a key from further on. These doors can block the way to upgrades or even to entirely new areas. Unfortunately, there is no in-game method by which to note which rooms require which keys, so you’ll need to keep track of them on your own.

The game is divided into 4 separate regions. You begin in a set of caves that have remnants of mining equipment, lighting, support columns, and other man-made objects, including the occasional computer room. This area is largely populated by rats, bats, spiders, and wall-climbing snails, as well as some loping humanoid creatures with soulless white eyes.

Later you’ll enter a forest, which has a more fantasy-like appearance with projectile-firing camouflaged plants and jumping shelled creatures with red eyes. Underwater areas lie beyond this with their own local fauna, and eventually you’ll reach an industrial area heavily populated with secret passages, falling block traps, and spikes.

You have a mini-map in the corner and you can pause at any time to access a full-size map. This functions in the same way as the map in Super Metroid and the games that followed, giving you a basic outline of the level structure, with rooms you’ve visited appearing on the map and everything else in black. Each room is color coded to indicate which of the 4 regions it occupies.

Completionists may attempt to discover the 10 silver coins that are hidden throughout the game world. A few are in plain sight, but you’ll need to be thorough in your exploration if you hope to find them all. There is a special bonus awaiting those who do.

Project Black Sun was developed by Starflower Games, a studio based in Tampere, Finland. The studio was founded in 2011 by twin brothers Mika and Tommi Laurila. Mika is a programmer who previously worked at Universomo as a tester on the mobile version of de Blob. Tommi is an artist and programmer who worked previously at 10tons as an artist on the casual puzzler Dragon Portals for PC, Mac, and iOS devices.