Trapped aboard a giant mysterious ship when out loot collecting, the scavenger Roughshot finds himself in a heap of trouble, as the ship's AI, on a very GLaDOS-like boredom/creativity binge is ready to set up a gauntlet of deathtraps in the name of science and is more than willing to let our hero be his guinea pig. Roughshot does not intend to lose his life (nor any of the precious loot he's collecting along the way), and fights his way to freedom.
One part sidescrolling Mega Man, one part Bullet-Hell shooter, and a dash of Portal (in both humor and puzzling) round out the meat of Rive. This game is somewhere between imagining a Bullet-Hell with long bouts of gravity and Mega Man with 3/4 of the screen filled with bullets. Your little spider ship/tank has more than enough bullets to take down your enemies, of which there are plenty, and also has the ability to upgrade it's armor, power-ups, and loot-sucking capabilities. You explore in a fashion that feels like a MetroidVania as you expand your knowledge of the massive ship you are trapped within, even though, by and large, the game is very linear, shuttling you through section after section and constantly keeping you moving. You will go through weightless sections where your spacecraft floats and enemies dive in traditionally, gravity based platforming where enemies run and fly in constantly, and strange halfway points where there are bubbles of anti-gravity that you must stay in or face doom at the lava/spikes/general death below.
And death will come. Oh yes, it will come. And it will come many....MANY times. Rive is hard. Bullet-hell shooters would be frowned upon by purists if they had infinite lives, but Rive uses them smartly. A well-placed series of auto-save points keep you coming back not far from where you suddenly exploded. You don't always get full health, either. The game will fill up your meters just enough to where you think maybe, just MAYBE, you will get through this time. By the end of hard sections, you'll remember what order the swarms of enemies come in, from what sides, and how long between them. The humorous death and "game over" jabs are varied enough to keep you amused, though if our hero had something witty to say right after the last save you might get tired of HIS voice, as that witty banter will pop out again, and again, and again. The game is fun (and hard) enough to keep you coming back after twenty....thirty tries at one section (that might last five minutes, might last five seconds), so I would have appreciated the game realizing how many times you've heard a line, but once you press through it's that much more satisfying to leave that part behind.
Rive is wondrously frantic, constantly dropping new enemies, bigger versions of older enemies, or new pattern swarms. As you upgrade, some of those enemies you will find can be hacked, bringing them over to your side. This power-up option provides a choice or two: Do I take an offensive tank with me, or a healing robot? Can I survive that one turret staying alive shooting across my nose so I can hack it later in this battle to use against the bigger enemies? These questions will bounce back and forth in your brain as you try to wrangle the controller to stay alive. I would appreciate something more than the default PS4 controller, as the frantic pace got my thumbsticks sweaty, and I'd slip back and forth occasionally. The game does not let up and give you a break unless you use the pause button. There is only one option for difficulty on the main menu: Hard Mode. It only offers you an easier difficulty after you die double-digits times on the same area. I appreciate the speed at which the game resets, though. You get two seconds of a witty "you are dead" remark, then it's back to not-that-long ago. Once or twice, I was reset to a point that was absurdly far back, but luckily they weren't terribly hard sections that just staying focused on got me through the second time. I also had one instance where a platform failed to pop out upon completion of a fight, causing me to force a reset to the last checkpoint that was before a previous difficult battle. This has only happened once in my play time on this game though.
If you look closely at the I in the Rive logo, you'll see a little Nintendo controller. the game wears it's 8-bit roots on it's sleeve with steep difficulty curves that can be overcome with some pattern memorization. It brings that gameplay into the next century with beautiful graphics, insane explosions, blazing fast speed, and witty humor that wouldn't have projected as well back in the era of bleeps and bloops. There are controller-throwing frustrating sections that made me turn it off for a break, but I kept coming back and eventually figuring out the pattern for survival. The game is hard, not impossible. Rive is for hardcore players, people looking for a laugh, and those who miss the oldschool "hard mode". Casual players may be put off by it's straight up difficulty (not expecting what I was in for, I died the first time in about five seconds) and blazingly mind-numbing pattern memorization. For those who are looking for a challenge, you have found it.
Thanks to the developers for providing a copy of Rive for review on PS4.
Final Review Score: 4.5/5