Rive (PS4) — Review

I’ve spent most of the last two and a half weeks playing the latest Destiny expansion, Rise of Iron.  While I’m far from done with that, I was looking for something to play that was a little simpler, something I could play through quickly.  Enter Rive, a platformer/shoot-em-up combination made by Two Tribes.  Bullet hell lovers might really enjoy what Rive has to offer, but overall I found it slightly above average.

Platforming and twin-stick shooting combine to form a decent game.

Platforming and twin-stick shooting combine to form a decent game.

  • TL;DR: A mixture of platforming and twin-stick shooting that tries too hard at times
  • Platform: PS4
  • Time Played: 5:00
  • What I Played: Finished campaign on hard mode

Rive puts you in control of Roughshot, a no nonsense space pilot with a trucker hat, beard, and cigar.  He commands a small armored ship that looks like a spider.  The story involves finding, exploring, and trying to escape from a large space station under the control of a hostile robot named Daryl Lloyd-Lancaster.  The main focus of Rive is easily the gameplay, though.

That gameplay is fairly simple to pick up as you move your spider tank with the left stick and shoot with the right stick.  Everything you shoot with your extremely rapid fire machine gun racks up your score and drops scrap metal which is used to buy special weapons like a homing missile barrage, short range shotgun blast, and bouncing mines.  Generic ammo crates give you a single shot’s worth of a special weapon at a time.  One thing Rive definitely has going for it is its particle effects.  The constant explosions from enemy robots and missiles keeps the screen very busy.

Enemy robots come in a handful of types, but the most common type is the purple kamikaze robot.  These keep you moving backwards as they approach, backing you into more trouble.  Pink frisbee shaped robots like to dart around and slash the screen with a pink arc, messing with your field of view.  Yellow oblong robots move in a wave pattern while large spherical robots with giant eyes like to scan for your ship, lock on, and rush forward.  I wish that the spread of these different enemy types was more even, though.  Fighting the purple dive bombers 75% of the time gets a bit boring.

These big seek-and-crash robots don't mess around.

These big seek-and-crash robots don’t mess around.

Rive is mainly a 2D platformer as you jump your spider tank around the inside of the space station.  One of Rive’s more unique spins is that portions of the game take place in zero gravity, changing the gameplay from platforming to twin-stick shooting.  Not only are the play styles mixed up during play, but different set pieces and environmental hazards keep you on your toes.  There are autoscrolling sections with laser beams guiding your movement, sections that corner you and force you to stand still, saw blades, creeping lava, fans that blow you off course, and more.  Rive throws a lot at you.

Much has been said about Rive’s difficulty.  The main menu only lists hard mode as a playable option when you load the game for the first time, so Two Tribes isn’t trying to hide anything there.  A single hit from an enemy can send you careening into three or four more shots, turning an otherwise well-executed section into a game over screen.  Rive is definitely a tough game, but I found the most difficult parts to be sequences that would require Olympic reaction times to get right the first time.  It’s not that much fun to die over and over as you progress a half second forward at a time through an escape sequence.  Thankfully, each death sets you back at most 15-20 seconds and there’s no loss of score/gear/items, so even if you die over and over (which you will) it’s not a huge burden.

The writing in Rive is clearly trying to be funny.  It is at times but mostly it comes across as just trying too hard.  Roughshot likes to drop lines at just about every turn: “I love the smell of nuts and bolts in the morning”, “I for one welcome our gun turret overlords”, “I’m on a boat!”, etc.  There is also a bit of fourth wall breaking with the pilot recognizing that he’s in an obscure Japanese space shooter.  I’m all for humor in my games but by the end of Rive’s five hour campaign, I had had enough.  Rive’s best qualities are in its gameplay and it could have been a better game if the main character, who we only ever see an image of, would close his mouth a bit more.

Frankly, a $1 purchase to turn off the barrage of one liners might be worth it.

Frankly, a $1 purchase to turn off the barrage of one liners might be worth it.

One of the more well executed jokes in Rive is ending each level with a fireworks show coming out of the spider tank.  Each of the game’s dozen levels ends with a score screen racking up your bonus points for combos and completion time.  You also get placed on an individual leaderboard for each stage.  Beating the campaign unlocks two new ways to play, a speedrun mode and a single credit mode.  The number of times I died after chaining a single hit into five means I’m staying as far away from single credit mode as possible.

The art style in Rive is cartoony and animated with robots constantly moving back and forth almost like they are breathing.  Even though the camera is firmly planted straight on, the use of perspective and camera zoom give Rive a good sense of scale and size.  The different zones in the game might not change the gameplay all that much, but the deep underwater sections are suitably dark and creepy while the time spent in the forge are full of lava and clanging steel.

Rive gets pretty hectic and stays pretty all the while.

Rive gets pretty hectic and stays pretty all the while.

Overall, Rive is a decent game.  The combination of platforming and twin-stick shooting along with a high degree of difficulty requires you to focus throughout the five hour campaign.  That campaign would have been better if the main character kept more to himself instead of talking at every turn.  Leaderboards and speedrun modes give Rive a large amount of replayability if you really take a liking to it.  I had an alright time playing through Rive but I don’t think I’ll be going back.

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