The bullet-hell genre is perhaps the most fundamentally enjoyable category in all of gaming, granting gamers the purist gameplay experience imaginable – one that is free from the confines of narrative, and left to just delight and captivate those seeking an exhilarating and explosive gameplay extravaganza. Not so, it seems, with Echo Hall Studio’s Black Sand Drift, an intergalactic LSD trip of near- catastrophic failing that you’ll soon what to forget.
Right from the moment of its inception, it is clear that Black Sand Drift utterly squanders all of the magnificence that defines the bullet-hell genre. Rather than launch straight into the gameplay, Black Sand instead forces you to endure a completely nonsensical narrative that’ll have you Drifting off to sleep. The writing is abhorrently bad, with all the nuance and excitement of the Attack of the Clones, and drags on for what seems like a light year. It doesn’t help that the mountains of mundane exposition are delivered via text only, lulling you into a deep hyper-sleep long before you even get to fire a single shot.
Once you escape the all-consuming black hole that encompasses Black Sand Drift’s story, you’ll discover a game that manages to be barely anything but functional. Your goal is to blast a plethora of poorly designed enemies into minute pieces, all the while struggling to overcome the sluggish controls. Aside from your main weapon (which for some reason is constantly firing, even during moments of exposition) you have access to a number of special abilities, including a boost and special weapons. These you can chain together to build up your score multiplier, adding a much-welcomed level of complexity to a game woefully lacking in standout features.
The A.I does pose a modicum of challenge – I frequently found myself having to replay levels over and over again – however I suspect this is mainly due to the atrocious level design. You’ll frequently be ambushed by a roaring cascade of enemies, with almost no hope of surviving the onslaught. It does add an element of replayability, forcing you to learn the levels in order to achieve the highest scores, but the sheer brutality, coupled with the bad controls and nauseating landscapes mean that you’ll want to immediately eradicate this atrocity from your Steam library.
If there is but one saving grace in Black Sand Drift, then it would have to be the soundtrack. While it won’t be winning a Grammy anytime soon, the combination of reverberating guitar riffs and swelling base-lines combine to create a pleasing, if somewhat messy melody. It perfectly suits the trippy art style, and while that might not constitute the greatest of praise, it allows Black Sand Drift to maintain a stylistic consistency throughout the entirety of the game.
Yet this is but a miniscule granule of positivity, one that was instantly snuffed out by the sheer volume of infuriating bugs. Nine times out of ten when launching the game, the soundtrack failed to start, a grievous fault considering the fact that it is but one of the few saving graces in Black Sand Drift.
Factor in several other issues, including the that the game erased all of my save data, and it becomes difficult to even recommend Black Sand Drift as a mere curiosity. Echo Hall Studios have taken the bullet-hell genre to heart, creating a literal interpretation that manifests into one of the worst games I have played in many a year.