RIVE is the metal-wrecking, robot-hacking shooter you’ve been waiting for!
While that is a pretty catchy tag line, I’m not sure it’s something I’ve been waiting for. Then again, favorites tend to form around those games that are the kind you didn’t even know you wanted (till you started playing it). That’s a good way to describe my first encounter with developers Two Tribes and their oh-so-aptly fitting “I didn’t know this was a thing I wanted” title Toki Tori. What a properly pleasant surprise that was. So given that track record, I hope that RIVE Ultimate Edition brings that same kind of “wow, I was not expecting to like that this much” feeling.
The story is mostly optional.
Talk about knowing your audience! When it comes to side-scrolling, twin-stick shooters, I often find their stories can often get in the way of my enjoyment (AKA shooting at things). This one doesn’t and here’s something I don’t think I’ve ever said about a game in this genre: I actually really liked the story! Players control Roughshot, a space scavenger who winds up stuck inside a starship. That may not sound too scintillating, but while trying to escape the ship he comes across a robot who goes from sometimes-antagonist to downright helpful at times. The interaction between the two is what sells the story, though. It’s light and humorous with plenty of mentions about old video games as well. It’s worth listening to, but if you don’t want to sweat, just keep shooting the robot till he blows up when he appears. Normally that would be my first choice, but the story really is worth listening to.
Hacking and blasting.
RIVE plays as a few different things all in one. At times it is a regular side-scrolling shmup. The majority of the time, however, it is that twin-stick 2D platformer. Along with plenty of regular pew-pew to go around, Roughshot also acquires hacks to open doors and even make formerly hostile robots work for him. There is also a bevy of special attacks which can be obtained and used extremely often. Those attacks only have one charge at a time, but ammo crates for them drop pretty judiciously so you are seldom without them for very long after firing. The hacking is a fun thing to play with — I mean, you get to hack trains. What’s not to like? The shooting and special weapons are very satisfying as well.
The Mega Man test.
One of my chief issues with twin-stick 2D platformers is that many times the twin-stick aspect doesn’t seem necessary. For many in the genre, that level of precision with shots can make enemies pointless, since you can wipe out enemies from afar at any angle without ever being in danger, thus making them little challenge to the patient . That’s where the Mega Man Test comes in. Apart from some special weapons, Mega Man doesn’t shoot in any direction other than straight ahead. So the test is very simple: does the game require full 360° aiming and still offer a good challenge or can a more enjoyable experience be had if the player simply shot straight and maneuvered themselves more? In short, does the game play better if you were to play it like it was Mega Man?
Thankfully RIVE passes this test. Even better, there is an actual Mega Man Test in-game. One particular mission does lock the guns and shows exactly how much that 360° aiming is required. While I’m sure it was more a nod to some video game nostalgia and not a test I made up, it drives home the fact that it actually is good twin-stick shooting, the kind that has a purpose and doesn’t just make the game excessively easy. Waves of enemies come from all around and while I suppose you could “play it like Mega Man” you wouldn’t want to in this case.
A “small” issue.
If there is one thing I did have some issues with in RIVE, it was the controls. More specifically, the small stature of the Switch’s Joy-Con controllers. The game mechanics do essentially require a control scheme that, while I don’t care for it, is really the only way to go. Jumping with the ZL button (left trigger) still seems unnatural to me, but there is little other way to map out all the controls otherwise and still have full use of all functions. The “small” problem occurs due to the hacking system being brought up by both the L and R buttons. Specifically, Joy-Cons are very thin and the sections of the game that require lots of jumping can be a recipe for accidentally engaging the hacking option. That’s a bit of a problem, as that mode does not allow for regular shooting. The end boss saw me doing this repeatedly. It’s a fun and hectic fight, but the lack of space on the controllers between these two buttons made it even harder. While it is certainly playable with Joy-Cons, players may be far better served with the wired or elite controllers that more closely resemble Xbox Controllers.
RIVE Ultimate Edition was a rather pleasant surprise through and through. Its shooting mechanics were great, the story was a joy and it’s not just a campaign, either. Players looking to extend their stay with the game can do a score attack mode with global leaderboards and even a one-coin mode. While I didn’t find the actual platforming to be too vigorous, it does have its moments, mostly involving hacked machinery. Those moments do, though, add to some unexpected spikes in difficulty. There will be plenty of deaths at first, although that is smoothed over by the fact that dying has little to no consequence. Sometimes that can be a drawback, but here it feels right, as there are some trial-and-error sections.
The visuals are definitely pleasant on the eyes, so the game looks the part as well as plays it. RIVE may not be a game that jumps out at you saying “Buy me! Buy me!” but it is one that, once you do have it, won’t see you disappointed. It certainly gave me a good surprise. It’s one of those rare examples of a twin-stick, 2D, side-scrolling platformer done right. That alone is no small feat.