As charming as RIVE is, it’s hard to shake the feeling of deja vu that comes over the moment you start the game. As the final game by Dutch-based Two Tribes, this twin stick shooter manages to cram in elements of fast-paced side-scrolling platforming, three-hundred-and-sixty degree shoot-em-up mayhem and claustrophobic dungeon crawling all into one frantic six-hour adventure. Even the dialogue seems more concerned with making pop cultures references than it does with assembling some sort of coherent plot.
Players take on the role of the grizzly Roughshot, a space junker who uses his Spiderbot to loot derelict ships across the galaxy. After stumbling upon a space station in the middle of an asteroid field, he finds himself trapped and up against hordes of weaponized robots out for his blood. Thankfully, he has plenty of ammo and a razor-sharp wit to help him get out of the wreckage in one piece. But is that going to be enough in a game that, at every turn, has been designed to be unforgiving and punishing right from the outset.
What begins as a ramped up homage to sci-fi arcade shooters such as Gradius and Asteroids quickly transforms into something else entirely. As you navigate through the corridors, pipes and ledges that make up much of the gameplay environment, RIVE becomes a whistle-stop tour through the history of the platforming genre. From Mega Man inspired precision shoot-em-up action to speedily outrunning traps and enemies in a manner that would make Sega’s famous blue hedgehog proud, this is a game that isn’t ashamed to acknowledge its inspirations.
There’s even a nod to PlayStation platformer Ratchet and Clank, through the game’s upgrade system. By destroying everything that isn’t nailed down, Roughshot can collect nuts and bolts which, at certain points in the game, can be exchanged for weapon and armor upgrades that become more and more vital as you progress through each level. Surprisingly, this fusion of gameplay styles and nostalgic nods comes together well, resulting in a fluid gameplay experience.
But nostalgia and upgrades alone won’t save you from the barrage of traps and trials that RIVE continuously hurls your way. Taking a leaf from the Dark Souls book of game design, death is less of a risk and more of an inevitability, forcing the player to learn from their mistakes and try a different approach next time around. Set pieces become reflex-testing scenarios where one mistimed jump or lack of additional firepower could be all that stands between you and success. In many respects, it adds an extra element of danger, increasing the stakes for those of us who grew up on a healthy diet of arcade shooters and platformers.
However, this is also a game that makes no apologies for its punishing difficulty and even those who relish a challenge will quickly become frustrated having to constantly replay the same set piece over again. RIVE’s margin for error is virtually non-existent which would be an acceptable trait, if not for the fact that you barely have time to assess the situation before you find yourself a whisker away from death. No sooner have you escaped one danger and you’re immediately pushed forward onto the next. There’s very little in the way of respite at all, aside from a few cut-scenes and those few moments where you get to upgrade the Spiderbot. Despite its unrelenting pace, RIVE sure knows how to kill the momentum in a mere split second.
If there is one plus side to the merciless difficulty, it’s that it always finds new and exciting ways to keep you on your toes. Each level offers a surprising amount of new obstacles to throw your way and even if they are designed to torment you every step of the way, you can’t help but admire the game’s ingenuity. Furthermore, you can also hack enemies and environmental objects across each game that provide some much-needed assistance in particularly tight spots. For example, hacking a Gun Bot will essentially double your firepower, while taking control of a Nurse Bot will provide you with health on demand for a limited time period. This hacking mechanism also comes in useful for opening secret pathways or solving environmental puzzles scattered around each level. As arguably RIVE’s most unique feature, my only wish is that it would have been a more prominent feature, giving players a much-needed reprieve from the bombardment of enemies and traps we otherwise have to endure.
Visually, RIVE is one of the better looking platformer offerings of late, boasting a crisp and colourful take on grungy sci-fi aesthetics. But while each level does what it can to differentiate itself from the last in terms of looks and hazard types, the same can’t be said of the enemy roster. Boss battles aside, the same constant group of enemies are on rotation throughout the course of this hour adventure. Furthermore, it becomes tricky to get your bearings when you’re in the midst of a constant stream of gunfire and explosions. As the gameplay becomes increasingly hectic, so too do the visuals, making an already difficult experience even more challenging in the process.
For a game that demands so much precision from the player, it’s a shame that RIVE is so hap-hazard when fulfilling its own side of the bargain. A never-ending endurance test that will frustrate some, and alienate most others, it requires far too much time and patience for a game of its stature. But those who are up for the challenge, there’s plenty of charm and nostalgia to be found in what is a decent send-off for the development team at Two Tribes.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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