The developer of this game, Two Tribes, are best known for their gently paced Toki Tori games about a chicken who can neither jump nor fly. RIVE is a world away by comparison. This is undoubtedly one of the more accomplished indie titles I’ve played. It feels tight and well put together in a way that few games do, including independently made ones. The campaign has been highly enjoyable in co-op mode, and I’ve found that competing for high scores solo is both heart poundingly tense and highly addictive.
The tight controls are reminiscent of Geometry Wars. Controlling your tank is a multitask effort when playing solo. There’s a simple yet satisfying 2D platformer in here, complete with double jumping and left-right movement on the left analog stick. The other duty is shooting your machine gun in 360 degrees with the right analog stick, and using occasional special weapons.
As in Geometry Wars, enemies will bum rush you in large numbers every chance they get, and they do so very often. The multitasking difficulty comes when you’re forced into complex dance routines with enemies, jumping and circling to avoid them while blasting the enemies to bits.
Co-op is great because, while it does demand coordination with your partner, each person handles movement or shooting exclusively. This frees you up to concentrate on executing just one task well. I’ve found that while I can certainly get by in RIVE on my own, my moving and shooting skills combined are simply OK, whereas parcelled out individually I can perform each better. The difficulty is with coordinating your actions with another player. Thankfully, since these are linear 2D levels, you’re rarely left debating with your co-op partner where you should go next!
Unlike Geometry Wars, RIVE has a campaign mode made up of 12 stages (each stage lasts around 15-20 minutes with frequent checkpoints), as you traverse an abandoned space station in your spider-tank. I won’t beat around the bush, the plot is downright bad – the protagonist reminds me of a more gruff, macho Ray from Disaster: Day of Crisis… and that’s not a good thing. There are a ton of meta-references to other videogames, and references to internet memes throughout. ‘GOT TO THE CHOPPER’ after I fell into a next of sawblades raised a chuckle, I’ll admit.
Silly and unpretentious – this is an action platformer centred on blowing machines to smithereens. I can’t begrudge the developers too much for creating a self-aware, one-dimensional protagonist whose stated mission in life is to blow up machines. Having said that, there’s no getting around the fact that narrative and aesthetics can and do greatly colour our experience of games. On that front, it has to be said the developers missed an opportunity to elevate the experience with a more compelling presentation.
Where RIVE excels is tight controls and level design. Levels are well-paced with a balanced selection of platforming and shooting with some on-rails flight sections thrown in too. Traditional elements like water, lava and wind all feature in the different stages to help switch things up. It may not be mindblowingly original but it’s all so well done it doesn’t need to be. There are also several setpieces (my favourite so far involves fighting hordes of enemies whilst atop a moving train) and highly satisfying bosses. Oh yes, the bosses.
Technically, the game runs great too – zero slowdown even when the screen is completely littered with enemies.
It’s rare to find a game that has equally compelling campaign and score attack modes. Speaking of score attack, I’m currently hovering around the 10s and 20s on the global leaderboards for the battle arena challenges, with intentions of going higher (IIRC I’m currently seventh in the world on the Skywhale arena). Bring on that competition! The only pity is that there aren’t more score attack stages; there is a challenge mode with its own leaderboards but the majority of the challenges are simple variations on the battle arenas.
As you may have surmised, I’ve greatly enjoyed my time with RIVE and it gets a strong recommendation from me. If “Geometry Wars with a campaign mode” sounds in any way appealing, you can’t go wrong.