The word ‘Rive’ means to tear apart violently. This is something that happens a lot in Two Tribes challenging 2D bullet hell platformer hybrid of the same name. When the default setting is hard you know you’re probably going to get ripped apart, though in this cast you’ll get torn to shreds by machine gunfire, blown to bits by missiles, melted by lava, sliced up by lasers, and much more besides.
To say I died a lot playing Rive is an understatement. But call me a masochist, I loved every second of it. You see, Rive is one of those game’s where you’re quick or dead, skilled or dead, you get it right, or you’re dead. Simple as.
Players take on the role of Roughshot; a scrap salvaging badass, piloting a spider tank (in the vein of the adorable Tachikomas from ghost in the Shell) with a bloody great machine gun strapped to it. As you progress you unlock additional weapons and armour upgrades as well as the ability to hack gun turrets, health giving nurse drones and suicidal smashbots.
The game opens with Roughshot stumbling across an abandoned starship ripe for salvaging. However, once on board the ship’s defences all spring to life and he’s accosted by a horde of angry drones and bots led by an insane caretaker droid that delights in ‘testing’ his murderbots and deadly traps on you.
Early on, Rive gives you all of the tools and teaches you all the basic skills you’ll need to survive. Then it gleefully spends the rest of the game placing you in situations that hamstring you in some way, backing you into a corner, funnelling you through machinery or sending you into bubbles of zero-g. A new tense situation is never more than a couple of moments away as you’re forced to take out waves of merciless murderbots while overcoming restrictions that the environment has placed upon you.
Though it’s tense and challenging, Rive never feels overwhelming, or like it’s asking you to do too much. It successfully rides the fine line between difficulty and frustration with aplomb, providing abundant checkpoints and minimal load times that put players right back into the heart of the action in seconds, and doesn’t deplete your resources or damage your score if you die. Rive certainly has plenty of tricky spots but there is always just enough wriggle room to allow you to (eventually) scrape through.
Along the way, you’ll make your way through all kinds of strange locales, which would make sense in an a-typical platformer but seem a little out of place in a derelict space ship. You guide your little spider tanks over lakes of lava and vast oceans, as well as through bubbles of zero gravity, reminiscent of Mario Galaxy and mechanical nightmares like something out of Megaman.
Each of the game’s areas are distinct, colourful and fluidly animated. Bots skitter along the ground, while lights blink back into life as you enter previously dormant parts of the ship, and with it a new set of hazards and challenges.
The game’s fantastic presentation is completed by a great soundtrack and wonderful sound effects as bullets tear through bots which explode, and explode and then explode some more. All while Roughshot chimes in with a silly quip or pop culture reference in the way that your average 80’s action hero would, keeping in line with the games pseudo retro charms.
Rive is a tough, but incredibly rewarding game, that taps into that weird zen space that all good shooters do; a Pangalactic Gargleblaster of a game, that hits with all the force of golden brick, but will ultimately leave you feeling dazed, but ultimately refreshed.