Leaving you riding high or feeling blue?
There are many twin stick, top down shooters out on the market and have been enjoyed for centuries since the birth of video gaming. The pick up and play element has always served them well appealing to gamers young and old, so what sets Blue Rider from Argentine developers Ravegan apart from what has come before?
You take control of a little blue ship (or rider as the name would suggest) exploring planets, killing enemies and destroying bosses for reasons unknown. Not that the lack of story is a problem; often games are bundled around an unconvincing or over complicated story to justify their existence. Blue Rider doesn’t waste its effort or resources; it’s just you and your controller for some straight up entertainment.
The gameplay follows the same theme of keeping it simple: direction/movement is mapped to the left thumbstick with camera controls on the right. Shooting your primary weapon using the right trigger and secondary weapon using the left. Finally, the option of using a speed boost using either bumper, but rarely did I find a reason to use it. The basic gameplay works well and you feel in complete control of your rider, although your primary attack is limited to holding the button down all guns blazing so you could easily hold the trigger and plough forward through the level. Good luck with that tactic, though: let me explain why.
The best part of Blue Rider lies with its difficulty. All your enemy attacks can be dodged with ease; their projectiles are slow and their travel easy to parse. It can be a breeze when there are few enemies to contend with. Pile on enemies with different forms of attack and the gameplay can quickly turn chaotic, keeping watch on every attack approach your rider and frantically moving left, right, up and down in an attempt to evade whilst holding down the primary attack.
It’s great fun, but what adds more importance to evading attacks is your ship’s health, or lack of. There are no checkpoints or lives, and once the game is over you are returned to the main menu to start over. You can opt to start from the beginning of that level, but due to the lack of health generation it can be really frustrating (or thrilling if that way inclined) to breeze through an entire level to the end boss only to be taken out, sometimes with a single attack. Controllers are likely to go out the window, but there is something about Blue Rider that has you going back for more.
The addictiveness of learning where you can improve on each level has you returning in an attempt to ensure that, going into a boss fight, you have as much health as possible and your weapons are upgraded. Your health can be boosted by little green orbs dropped from enemies; there are also blue orbs to increase your mayhem score or pink orbs to increase the amount of bombs at your disposal to trigger a secondary attack. These drops are random; there is no way of guaranteeing a drop or which orb may drop. I’ve gone through whole levels without a single health drop, but I’ve also gone through levels with health drops dropping here, there and everywhere and thought, out loud, where were you earlier?
See, the challenge with Blue Rider tends to come from the boss fights. The levels leading up to them are entirely doable thanks to predictable enemy attacks with slow moving projectiles. Slow and steady wins the race, approaching each stage with caution to protect your health give you the best chances of defeating the bosses and there is nothing I came across that worried me until the boss.
Each boss has its own defensive style and range of attacks, but in common they have a significant amount of health, as displayed by their health bar along the bottom of the screen. Undoubtedly the most challenging element of Blue Rider, but also the more interesting. It may take time to understand how best to approach each boss, and it can be immensely satisfying when it all comes together in defeat of the enemy.
Each level is designed beautifully, from riding through a jungle to snowy mountains. Whilst played from a top down perspective the colours are vibrant and bright, giving the feeling everything around you is three dimensional. Sadly the variety doesn’t extend to the enemies, all of which look samey; there is little variety in the way that they look or move. Boss fights are varied and excellently designed. From a giant scorpion shaped boss using its pincers for defence, to a spider-like tank able to open up and attack with directional lasers, it’s clear a lot of thought and effort has gone into every boss encounter.
In the main the game performs well, but for a couple of times I experienced freezing issues of around 5-10 seconds when the gameplay got a little frantic. This didn’t happen often, but often enough to be worth mentioning. The music felt generic and uninspiring not fitting with the on screen gameplay. Not a game changer, but disappointing and not fitting with the overall polish.
What has set Blue Rider apart from other twin stick shooters? Interesting boss encounters, frantic and challenging gameplay. A shooter well worth a play, demanding to a point where you want to go back for more, with beautiful graphics and uncomplicated gameplay. A game that could easily be completed within an hour with an achievement to match, but first you need to learn and adjust to each level, understand and overcome each boss, all whilst sitting back and enjoying the ride.
Blue Rider was provided to us by Microsoft via a download code for Xbox One.