The ironic thing about the term retro is that it's often grafted onto games simply because of the way they look. That's probably going to happen with Black Paradox, thanks mainly to its chunky pixel graphics and brilliant 16bit-era-aping soundtrack. But that's doing the game a pretty massive disservice.

Because for all of the vintage clothes it's wearing, underneath Black Paradox is a decidedly modern experience. It's a roguelike shuffled around for fans of blasting things in the depth of space, a shooter that offers more for you to do than just slide a finger around, and an arcade game that could hold its own with some of the classics of the genre.

In other words, Black Paradox is much more than it might appear at first glance. Sure it's got some old fashioned clobber on, but beneath it all there's a pulse-pounding iOS gaming experience that wouldn't really work anywhere else.

Paint it black

The game sees you playing a bounty hunter by the name of Black Paradox, who's driving a deadly space-car around. You drag a finger around the left of the screen to move, and push down on the right side of the screen to fire your weapon. Waves of enemies come at you from all angles, and it's up to you to find ways to destroy them.

So far, so standard, but there's a lot more going on here than that. You can pick up new weapons that float towards you by double tapping on the right of the screen. A swipe in the same place will change the weapon you've got equipped. Double tap on the left of the screen when your power bar is full and you'll unleash your special move, which is also called Black Paradox.

When you do another car, possibly from another dimension, pops up to fight alongside you for a few seconds. It's always got powerful weapons, and it can turn the tide of a boss battle if you throw it in at just the right time.

Black Paradox iOS review screenshot - Chasing a health pack

Speaking of weapons, the game is packed to the rafters with them. You start off with a simple gun, but soon you're finding blasters that fire out swarms of sentient insects, or unleashing brief, destructive sprays of what looks an awful lot like hot magma to me. There are lasers, there are rockets, there are rail guns, and there's at least one space shotgun to play with too.

You pick these weapons up in-game, and until you've unlocked the right chip you can't equip them at the start of a run. And here's the interesting thing - no matter how many of the seven bosses you kill, you always start the game back at the beginning with none of the buffs, boosts, or extra weapons that you picked up in your last fight.

You do keep your cash though, and you can spend it on adding new chips to your car ship. These toughen you up, but how strong they are depends on how well you did on your last run. There's only ever two to choose from when you head to the shop, so figuring out which combo works for you is key. You can buy extra chip slots too, but you'll need to put a lot of time into the game to earn the money you need for them.

Black Paradox iOS review screenshot - A rocket launcher drone

And the thing is, you're going to put that time in. There's a zen-like focus that falls over you when you're playing Black Paradox - your eyes zoom in to the maze of bullets you're trying to avoid, and your thumbs dance over the screen like you really are a space-faring bounty hunter on the lookout for their best ever score.

That's all thanks to how well the game is balanced. It's tough, but it's never unflinchingly tough - it'll start giving you more and more room as you add more powerful chips to your arsenal and get deeper into the game. After an hour of play that first, seemingly impossible boss is going to go down in a few hits.

You might not have collected a hundred different weapons up to that point, but that's because Black Paradox moves at a different pace to more casual mobile games. You never feel like a super-powered killing machine, but you never feel like a flimsy fish-in-a-barrel either. And that's some impressive work.

Black everything

There are some times when that balance goes slightly askew, and you'll find yourself stuck in the same position for a few runs while you try and get enough cash to push you on to the next level, but thanks to the roguelike-heart of the game, you're never grinding through levels you've already seen.

Black Paradox does pretty much everything you'd want an arcade shooter to do. It's fast, it tests your reflexes, but it gives you plenty of scope for experimentation and playing in your own way. And that's something that most retro shooters just can't manage.

Which is why it's a disservice to call Black Paradox a retro game. It's so much more than another game that's trying to be R-Type. It stands on its own two feet as a brilliant, engaging, sometimes breathtaking blaster, and you should pick it up right this second.