To me, most classic SHMUPs (Shoot ’em ups) seem like the same thing. They’re autoscrollers in which you play as some high-tech spaceship, and blast endless waves of enemies away. Y’know, stuff like R-Type, Gradius, and Nanostray. For the most part, I’ve not seen many games that deviate from that formula. Sure there are things like the Touhou franchise, but that’s just the same thing but with magical girls. RIVE, however, is the first time in a while that I’ve encountered a SHMUP that really caught my interest. The way it accomplishes this? By going far outside of the genre’s comfort zone.
A Classic SHMUP – Or is it?
Right off the bat, RIVE throws players into a familiar environment – an asteroid field. Moving is controlled with with one stick and aiming and shooting is mapped to the other. With this control scheme, players can fly around and blast apart enemies as they approach their destination.
But then RIVE throws you for a loop. Suddenly there’s an area with gravity, and your flying bullet pod has transformed into a spider-like mech. The auto scroll has stopped, and there’s a jump button of all things. This is where RIVE reveals that isn’t a classic-style SHMUP. It’s also half platformer. RIVE pulls off this fake-out intro fantastically, with the opening lulling players into a false sense of security. And then it pulls the rug out from under them. It’s a nice way to start off the game, and while it does revisit the genre’s tried and tested roots, RIVE definitely does it’s own thing.
The World Record for Most Bullets Stored in any One Spider
Once you are on foot, the game really gets underway. Right away the game does a nice job of introducing you to a bunch of different concepts: jumping, secondary weapons, upgrading, and checkpoints. Regardless of the situation, your spiderbot has a bottomless cache of bullets. You don’t even press a button to fire them – simply by moving the right control stick, you automatically launch a salvo of bullets in that direction. The bullet stream only stops when you let go of the stick, and you can fire 360 degrees, so this is a case where a strong offense is a good defense.
In addition to your basic weapon, you get plenty of subweapons to choose from, like shotgun blasts or tesla bombs. These subweapons function on an ammo system, but drops from enemies are rather common, so chances are you’ll have ammo on hand when you need it. RIVE has a bad habit of trapping you in specific areas for a while, tossing waves of enemies at you, so you’ll be using these subweapons often.
There’s also a hacking system involved, which acts as this game’s “power-up” system. By pressing the L button, you switch into a hacking mode, and hackable objects get circled. As you progress, you acquire different bits of source code that let you hack different things, ranging from nurse drones to turrets to even full-size trains. This adds a bit of a light Metroidvania aspect to the game, as you’ll occasionally pass by areas you can’t get into without the help of something hackable.
Gritty Guns, Graphics, and Gameplay
Visually the game’s art style is a perfect match for its tone. It’s gritty and dirty looking, but colorful all the same, and it’s usually very clear what’s dangerous and what isn’t. The story is also pretty similar and straightforward – you, as spacefaring scrapper Roughshot, are investigating an abandoned mega-ship. As players delve into the ship, they’ll find that despite it seemingly being abandoned, the machinery is still working. Among those machines is a pesky robot butler type. Amusingly, you can blast him into scrap like the other bots onboard the ship, though he’ll respawn rather quickly and chide you for it.
These concepts are taught via some great voiceover work from the main protagonist, Roughshot. While the actual voice of the character is enjoyable, the dialogue is more than a little groanworthy. Lines like “I for one, welcome our turret overlords” are unfortunately rather common.
When you blast those bots, they explode with gratuitous fiery effects. It’s gratifying, but it’s also one of my biggest problems with the game. When the game throws a regular large amount of enemies at you, the explosions obscure parts of the screen. Additionally, the game has a tendency to shake the screen when destroying enemies or when getting hit. and you’ll end up losing where your spiderbot is on the screen quite often. It’s a rather prevalent problem too, and often results in you dying because you can’t see where you are. I enjoyed the game quite a bit, but there were definite points where that situation made me take a break.
RIVE is a blast to play, that takes cues from a number of different genres and adds them to the shoot ’em up formula. In doing so, it creates something really unique and interesting. The gameplay is fast-paced, fun, exciting, and doesn’t try and distract from that. While it’s certainly fun, some unfortunately predictable gameplay tropes and the tendency to lose your character in big fights is definitely a downside. If you’re willing to look past that, RIVE truly shines in it’s fast-paced, snappy combat. For anyone looking for something that offers a twist on the regular SHMUP fare, RIVE is definitely worth a shot.
Review Copy Provided by Two Tribes