RIVE is the newly released action platform sidescrolling bullet-hell from the developers Two Tribes. If that sounds like a mouthful of buzzwords… well you would be right. However this doesn’t mean that RIVE gets bogged down in all of these elements. In fact, RIVE is a rather impressive little game
The impression that I got loading up the game was how impressively polished and neat everything looked. The graphical style along with the animations and UI give off a great sci-fi vibe, combined with the explosions and effects of combat make RIVE very visually compelling. This graphic style continues to impress throughout the games many levels, lava, electricity and many other elements flow seamlessly into the foreground making it obvious where you should avoid while still looking great.
Now to what RIVE is really about, the mesh of buzzwords. Generally, you jump around in your little walking tank, using your right analogue stick (on PS4) to aim and fire your machine gun as you would in a twin stick shooter. However as the game is in a 2D plane the game has a number of platforming elements; jumping over lava, jumping up walls, floating in gravity bubbles etc. This combination of twin stick and platforming works quite well. There are often sections where you are left to float in a gravity bubble and must survive against waves of enemies. This feels like a classic twin stick you have to be aware of 360 degrees around your tank to take out the incoming foes. The bullet hell elements of the game are obvious too, enemies attack in dodge-able swarms and are often firing large numbers of rockets and bullets that you can avoid, or deflect with your own bullets.
The enemies themselves are a varied bunch; you have classic floating orbs, floating disks with a slice attack, jumping lava shark rockets, flying techno bats, floating rocket squids and many more. Each enemy type tends to have a specific tactic for taking them out, such as staying on the ground while shooting the lava rockets, and retreating backwards away from the floating disks. You also collect bolts from these enemies as they die which can be used to purchase upgrades such as special weapons and more health. These elements are obviously very familiar for people who regularly play this genre. You can do one cool thing though, which is hack certain types of turrets. The hacking itself is just aiming a particular beam at the turret, which results in the game slowing down as you capture the robot. The result though, is that you can have some cool moments hacking a turret mid fight that can heal you or provide additional firepower, increasing the odds you make it out of the section alive.
I think the key thing that I like about RIVE is the pacing. It is quite obvious that the game has been designed with a well-researched formula. You have periods of generic platforming, periods of twin stick shooting, boss battles, lava escapes, arena battles and more. Each one is timed almost to perfection so that just when one tasks becomes competitive, the level changes pace and throws another level element at you. I found myself playing in longer stretches than I normally would for this type of game because of the variety of level elements it threw at me.
Let’s talk about the story. I have to preface this by saying that I rarely play games for the story, I’m a gameplay and mechanics man through and through. That’s not to say I can’t appreciate a good story when it’s there. Unfortunately RIVE doesn’t have a compelling story. You are trapped on this gigantic space ship with warp drives and you need fuel and you need to get off the space ship. There might be more to the story, but if you that’s all you’ve told me by 2 hours in I’ve stopped listening or caring. I actually stopped listening much early, since the characters try far too hard to be funny. A redneck style American stuck in a tiny tank saying cheesy one liners will appeal to some people but personally not me. Who plays platforming bullet hells for the story though, am I right?
There is one more key consideration on buying RIVE. You better like losing. This game is certainly not easy. The developers are clearly aware of this, considering the starting difficulty is “hard”. I’m not sure if it’s the combination of platforming elements with the shooting or what but I found it quite a struggle to get through some sections of the game (keep in mind I’m not particularly good at this type of game). Luckily the checkpoints are forgiving but if you are the type of person who gets frustrated easily this game may not be for you. There are also leaderboards for each level in case you are a perfectionist or overly competitive like me… and I have to say it was pretty satisfying to see I was in the top 10% for one of the levels!
Overall, RIVE really is a solid entry into the genre. It doesn’t do anything overly innovative however it combines a number of nice game elements together to provide a fun yet possibly niche game.
Disclaimer: Two Tribes gratefully provided us with a free copy of RIVE for review (PS4)