Black Bird review | A must-play indie shooter

From Japan – and the creator of Little King’s Story – comes an exquisitely made 2D blaster. Here’s our review of Black Bird…


Since striking out alone, designer Yoshiro Kimura (Little King’s Story, Chulip) has been quietly making outstanding, idiosyncratic mobile games such as Dandy Dungeon and Million Onion Hotel. The third game from Kimura and his team at boutique developer Onion Games marks a change of format, but it’s cut from a similar cloth: Black Bird is at once immediate and surprisingly deep, with sturdy foundations underpinning its surface weirdness.

In some ways, it’s the studio’s most conventional game to date, as a side-scrolling shooter with elements of Defender and, more obviously, Sega’s Fantasy Zone. It’s almost an evil alter ego of the latter, in fact, trading those vibrant colours for a much darker palette befitting the game’s doom-laden atmosphere. Your motivation is established in a matter of seconds, as you see a young girl collapse and die. Lying in the dirt, she’s ignored by most passers-by, with one man callously poking her prone body with a cane. Suddenly, she undergoes a startling transformation into a phantom crow, setting out to exact a violent revenge on the inhabitants of this unfeeling world.

Your ultimate goal is to destroy well-armoured towers stationed at regular intervals on the game’s wraparound levels. All the while, you’ll fend off a variety of smaller enemies on the ground and hovering in various dirigibles. Anything you destroy drops green jewels, which will boost your size and attack power once you’ve collected enough of them. Then, once the last tower falls, an end-of-level boss arrives.

If you’re rushing, you can race through all four stages in well under half an hour. But there’s a benefit to taking your time. Shooting successive enemies steadily tops up a combo meter that resets if you don’t find more targets quickly. As such, you’ll need to make sure you’ve got a supply of regular enemies while you’re taking out the towers, before racing along to the next. Use one of your limited supply of smart bombs – normally reserved for tight spots – when you’ve maxed out the combo meter and you’ll let off a ferocious screech that engulfs everything in a swirling vortex, releasing a cascade of gems and significantly boosting your score.

Like the best shooters, it strikes a fine balance between risk and reward. Those gems shrink when they bounce, encouraging you to get close to enemies so you can pick them up sooner, though that naturally increases your chance of taking a hit. Delay destroying the final tower, meanwhile, and eventually a large enemy will arrive on the scene to chivvy you along.

There’s more to discover once you’ve defeated the final boss, where the game eventually matches the intensity of its ‘bullet hell’ peers. An unlockable True Mode cranks up the pace and projectile volume, with fresh enemy types and new endings determined by your score. That might not be incentive enough for some players to stick with a game that’s admittedly slight in stature. But it would be ignorant indeed to dismiss this deceptively smart shooter as shallow.


There’s much to admire about Black Bird’s presentation, from the spectacular, screen-blurring effects of a smart bomb to its odd little flourishes like Million Onion Hotel’s returning asparagus rockets, and the way enemy patterns are timed to match the soundtrack. In short, it’s a wonderfully reactive world, rich in offbeat character.


Short but exquisitely fashioned and highly replayable, Black Bird injects a classic genre with eccentric charm.


Genre: Scrolling shoot-’em-up
Format: PC / Switch (both versions tested)
Developer: Onion Games
Publisher: Onion Games
Price: £14.99
Release: Out now

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