On the ice-blasted tundra far to the north of Windhelm, my life gushed out in a steaming crimson torrent and so, I died.
A moment’s inattention while exploring the foothills of the mushroom kingdom, and a Piranha Plant made two neat halves of me and so, I died.
Though my martial skill was honed to diamond-edged perfection, even I was no match for the revenant ninja known as Scorpion. With infernal flame he immolated me and so, I died.
Tens of thousands of lives I have spent in the pursuit of goals as myriad as saving the earth, felling a malevolent sorcerer or simply racking up a high score. Rive has enabled me to spend perhaps a hundred more.
Yes, I’ve died rather a lot as the good ol’ tank pilot in Rive and you’ll die a lot too. It’s a game aimed at a rather specific type of gamer – one who’ll someday post a YouTube video showcasing how they managed to complete it without receiving a single hit. One of the game modes is a ‘Speedrun’ and the default (and only) difficulty level is hard mode. Rive is tough, not through clumsy design or by dint of a poorly balanced difficulty curve but because the developers want to take you back to a time when you weren’t supposed to beat a game on your first go, or enjoy the sights as you went. This is back to learn-as-you die and if at first you don’t succeed…well, get used to it jackass.
Okay, Rive isn’t tough in the way that Dark Souls is tough. We’re not talking about a soul-sapping slog here, but something more akin to the venerable 8-bit Mega-Man games. Capcom’s little blue bastard is a good comparison. Those acquainted with Dr Light’s favourite robot/sex doll may recall just how dumpy he was to control. When the good doctor welded a baby’s head to a diminutive cyborg body and gave it the tools to kill and the conscience to ensure a life plagued with nightmarish regrets, he also ensured that the stunted robodwarf couldn’t easily escape his creator’s noxious desires by giving him all the agility of Augustus Gloop after a three-day Twix bender.
Screenshots can’t really do justice to the kinetic chaos which is so frequently frenetic
What I’m attempting to convey is that Mega-Man didn’t jump none too good and Roughshod (for that is your hero’s name) don’t jump good neither. This is part of the charm and challenge of Rive, attempting some deft manouveurs in something which controls like a Robin Reliant filled with porridge. When in the vacuum of space, or when hopping between anti-gravity bubbles, Roughshod’s four-legged tank is actually quite nifty but most of the time it’s a porridge-wagon.
As to Roughshod himself, I have quite the fondness for the blue-colour hero. I always felt that the likes of Lara Croft, Gordon Freeman or…er…Gex were looking down on me but Roughshod is a real working bloke, like Mario or Trashman (had to get my obligatory reference to a thirty year-old game in). His mission has something to do with salvaging scrap or something but I can’t say that I was that interested. Journey proved once and for all that less story is more.
Starting off in an asteroid field, Roughshod comes across a derelict spaceship and it’s here that the mayhem immediately begins. His tank jumps (not well, as I’ve consistently pointed out), double-jumps, shoots in any direction and can hack robots to provide mission support. Upgrades to armour and firepower are available later on. The graphics are mostly functional, with a few standout backgrounds and there are a few good tunes on the soundtrack. Defining how Rive actually plays however, requires talking about what it’s not. It isn’t a caution-to-the-wind blastathon like Broforce and neither is it a scrappy deathfest like the Bangai-O series of games. Herein lies the problem because as much as you’ll want to let rip and give every enemy you see a depleted uranium enema, for the most part a cautious approach will serve you best. That’s not to say that there aren’t some adrenaline-pumping moments, but this isn’t a bullet-hell shooter we’re talking about and Rive is best in its moments of precision-platforming.
Further dulling the explodey fun that you might expect from a side-scrolling shooter is that there simply isn’t enough variation of enemies. In no time at all you will have gunned down every variation of things that it’s possible to gun down. The halfway point is most probably where most players will throw in the towel because the only real novelty that’s left is the sheer challenge on offer and it’s a challenge which I have a real problem with.
Oh, I don’t think that the game is too tough. Far from it – restart points are incredibly liberal, but herein lies the rub (as Dr Light once remarked to his sobbing creation). Multiple restarts have given the developers carte-blanche to go as nutty as they want. Died ten times in a row? It hardly matters because it’ll take you around twenty seconds to get back to the point where you can try-try again. With no real consequences for death, there isn’t any real incentive to get substantially better at the game. Instead you’ll just learn perseverance and the particular sequence of button-presses needed to get you to the next bit.
Aand this is where you die. Often.
At one point in the game I honestly didn’t really care that I was dying over and over., I just kept bashing away in the knowledge that sooner or later I’d figure out what to do. Compare that to other steep challenges such as Dark Souls which encourages a slight amendment to tactical approach with every attempt, or Dying Light which rewards every hard-won victory with better and better loot and Rive starts to look rather linear.
I get it, those are big-budget titles and this is an indie, but it doesn’t stack up against the likes of Broforce as a shooter and as a platformer there’s much better out there. That’s not to say that you won’t have fun with Rive and there won’t be moments where the level design or sheer intensity of the action won’t raise a grin, but it’s hard to recommend this to anyone other than platform fans with plenty of patience who have played just about everything else on the Network.
Meanwhile, in an alternate future the robot boy known as Mega-Man sits alone amidst the burning ruins of Dr Wily’s technofortress and broods. He considers that he has taken the life of every single being which he could ever have called ‘brother’. Yes, they were the mischievous creations of the maniacal Dr Wily, yet they were kin of a sort.
“How can any individual define itself, except by that which is‘other’?” He questions the air around him, choked with the fumes from the pitted carcasses of childlike android warriors.
“Yet, now there is only the ‘other’ for I have slain everything that bore a likeness to me. I am, at last, truly alone.”
As Mega-Man turned his Mega-Blaster upon himself, his only consolation was that he had no soul by which God might judge him.
Rive was provided to us by Evolve PR via a download code for PC.