If games were measured by good intentions, Rive would be game of the year.
Developer Two Tribes intends for Rive to be their farewell to the video games. After 15 years, the studio just feels that they are no longer able to keep up with a changing industry. So, they gathered all their remaining resources and devoted them to this one final project.
Knowing this certainly helps to explain Rive’s retro design. Rive harkens back to several games that helped the developers fall in love with gaming itself. Playing as a gruff, one-liner spewing roughneck à la Duke Nukem, It features side-scrolling space shooter segments akin to R-Type. There’s a Metroid-like feel to the way you navigate levels and earn upgrades. The dual-stick control scheme is right out of Geometry Wars.
Most importantly, Rive is difficult in the way that games used to be. Actually, scratch that. It’s more accurate to say that Rive is difficult in the way that old-school games have been romanticized to be.
Combat in Rive may be mechanically simple, but the bullet hell persistence of the game’s enemies leaves you little room to breathe. It’s not long before every screen turns into a death zone where your sanctuary is a few pixels wide and constantly shifting.
Usually, this would mean you’d need to hone your skills in order to survive. Here, however, survival is more a matter of patience. Skill certainly helps, but it’s ultimately persistence that will win the day. Even upgraded weapons like homing missile launchers or abilities such as hacking fail to equal the power of trial and error.
The difficulty is welcome when Rive is at its best – beating a screen where the slightest error results in instant death, the feeling is incomparable. It is in these moments that the good intentions behind Rive’s development shine brightest.
Sadly, a game cannot be measured solely on good intentions.
Rive’s fundamental problem is a lack of identity. It tries to combine several great gametypes that just don’t mesh. Rive is at its best when it’s throwing a wave of enemies at you laterally and forcing you to react or die. Everything else, like the awkward platforming and puzzles, feel like they belong in some other passion project.
Even if Rive consisted of its best moments, other problems would drag the overall experience down. Chief among them is the game’s length. The only thing separating Rive from a two-hour completion time is its extreme difficulty and some painfully corny jokes that pad the story. It doesn’t help that there isn’t much variety in the enemy and obstacle types.
Rive’s developers deserve to be admired for releasing a game made with such obvious love. It’s just a shame the final product doesn’t quite measure up.