What better way to take your final bow as a developer than to create an homage to one of the most beloved genres in retro-gaming. As we, yet again, watch another indie developer close their doors for the final time, the team at Two Tribes banded together and stood tall, not wanting us to mourn their passing, but more… fill it with molten, hot, lead! Embracing their immanent demise, Two Tribes took it upon themselves to reinvigorate the Shoot ‘em up genre (shmup) and sign out with a BANG!
Rive, a self-aware love letter to the classic shmups of old, is a chaotic, 360 degree, bullet-fest. With the game making it into September’s Hotlist and my first impressions gushing over Rive’s ability to seamlessly meld Gunstar Heroes’ platforming with R-type’s frenetic space shooter, this game had all the hallmarks of a great shmup and seemed a fitting farewell to Two Tribes.
Placed in control of a small scavenger tank, you bust your way into an abandoned frigate, in search of fortune and glory. Unfortunately, D.L.L., the psychotic AI who now runs the ship, has other plans for you and your red-neck pilot. As you navigate the corridors of this massive space cruiser, collecting scrap, finding hacks and making improvements to your tank, the dastardly computer system sends wave upon wave of purpose built kill-bots to destroy you. With no obvious way out, it’s your job to survive D.L.L.’s maniacal plan and escape.
Although Rive’s fixed camera and parallax scrolling background add to the retro-gaming charm this title clearly tries to emulate, Rive is anything but 16-bit. Shells bounce off the floor as hordes of killing machines descend; explosions light up the detritus as bullets flash through the vast hangers and tight corridors of this drifting space hulk. All-the-while, the multitude of fans and pistons continue to chug and grind away, truly bringing the environment to life. With glorious scenery and a spider tank that’s so cute you’ll want to put bows in its servos, Rive is a graphical delight.
The game’s fast paced missions, segmented in to frantic kill-boxes where multiple waves of hyper violent enemies do their best to eviscerate you, does exactly what you’d expect from a shmup. Rapid re-spawns, tight controls and an incredibly well thought out check point system means that watching your little tank explode from a volley of kill-bots only need sting for a second.
Though the game states it only has a “Hard” mode, it’s really more frustrating than any sort of challenge. None of the sections will take you more than 5 attempts to complete and with nearly every enemy having some form of heat seeking attack, what initially seems like an interesting variety of rampaging robots soon become dull and predictable. The only exclusions from this is when the game throws an environmental challenge into the works, like conveyor belts, falling rocks that can block lasers or slowly receding floors. However, these are easily countered and you’ll be blasting past them within 2 attempts.
There are moments when, due to only having a small amount of health at spawn, you’ll have to restart the whole mission – a point I thought I would find really aggravating, but on a second attempt you realise how easy the levels actually are: the once feared kill-boxes now only taking two attempts instead of five and bosses that are so simple you’re able to take them out with your tank’s health bar having barely decreased.
With the game’s, not so subtle, nods to Gradius and Metal slug becoming a persistent reminder of the shmups’ mediocrity, Rive never quite lives up to the standards expected from a truly classic shooter. With an annoying ‘press & release’ action needed to activate the hacking beam and incredibly repetitive game play, this title is as enjoyable as a blind man at a shooting range: fun for a while but never quite hits the mark.
Two Tribes’ Rive is a sequel away from being a fantastic shooter: add multiplayer, a larger variation of enemies and more focus on the platforming element of the title, and Rive 2 could be joining games such as Galaga and Smash TV as a title that would not only be better than its predecessors but completely outshine them. Unfortunately, that’ll never happen. And as we enjoy Two Tribes’ final Hoo-ra, I wish them the best of luck and can’t wait to see what the future has in store for such a talented team.