A dazzlingly gorgeous addition to the modern array of arcade-influenced blasters on Steam, RIVE is one of those games that’s fiendishly, devilishly, air-punchingly difficult at times. It has no problem with giving you some shiny new rockets or a Tesla cannon, only to lock you into a zero-G bubble and have you fend off seemingly endless waves of enemies for a few minutes. It also has no qualms in taking the piss out of you (in warm fashion, I hasten to add) when you die, which will happen a lot.

The final game from Toki-Tori devs Two Tribes, RIVE mostly manages to sidestep the laziness that can come with simply making a game difficult. Ever since From Software pulled away from mechs and started making games where you fight mythical beasts, there’s been a tendency to equate hard difficulty with a secure level of quality. To its credit, RIVE gets a lot right – it is a game that, for the most part, has been nicely balanced and tuned to promote maximum playability and minimal frustration, even when the myriad robot enemies you’ll face have kicked you in the balls for the umpteenth time.

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The checkpointing is generous to begin with, and the restarts and revives almost instantaneous. RIVE wants to you fail at times, but it also wants you to learn, as is the case with all of the best SHMUPs. It wants you to remember enemy patterns and item drops, and to modify your successive strategies accordingly. But it also rewards deft (and occasionally lucky) piloting, and there’s a pleasant fluidity to the action, which sees you trotting about in a cutesy spider-bot, bristling with guns.

I say mostly, though, because there are some parts of the game that really revel in instakill torture, to the point where it feels like you can almost hear the developers cackling with diabolical glee. There are some segments that require such perfect timing and precision that the fun starts to drain out of the experience. Let’s just say that the platforming side of RIVE is nowhere near as enjoyable as the side where you blow things up.

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It’s a lovely game to look at, which is handy since you spend so much time replaying certain levels; and I like the fact that RIVE wears its inspirations proudly, poking fun at its arcade progenitors, and wholeheartedly admitting its plagiarism in places. Unfortunately, though, the main character is a little bit hit and miss with his constant monologuing and forced attempts at humour, although the writing improves with some nice self-referential bits towards the end.

It’s pretty short, but you expect that from a game of this sort, to be honest. What’s severely lacking, though, is much reason to come back for a second playthrough. RIVE has its moments, and its boss fights are a lot of fun, but it just doesn’t have the killer hook or original twist on the genre, nor sustained quality in the bits in between to stick the landing, and the much-vaunted 360-degree shootery bits are few and far between.

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It’s a worthwhile way to spend a few hours, and it runs far more smoothly now than it did on launch day, but in the end it’s sadly just not that memorable.

Platform: PC (reviewed) | PS4
Developer: Two Tribes
Publisher: Two Tribes

Review copy provided by publisher

Pretty plagiarism

RIVE is a gorgeous game that borrows plenty from its blaster genre predecessors to good effect, but sadly a lack of anything particularly original, and some truly punishing sections make it all too easy to leave behind.