In this fast-paced action plattformer you start as the “Commando” who is pretty well-rounded in his skill set and good to play for beginners. Stranded on a foreign planet after your ship got destroyed by an alien entity, you may only briefly stay at your crashed escape pod before the game starts throwing a constant stream of enemies at you, all of which grant XP and gold upon death. These are the resources needed to overcome the increasingly difficult amount of critters you get confronted with.
Money is spent on crates, drones or shop-like dispensers which contain either usable or passive-effect items that help you survive the onslaught that is about to start very soon. And since this is a rogue-like game, you will only have your one life, adding a sense of urgency and giving a hectic but very motivating pace to the game that keeps things fresh and interesting until either yours or the final end is met. At one time in a level you may feel quite comfortable with the amount of difficulty the game throws at you, but the next moment a few more tough elite enemies (or even a random boss) spawn and things get way different. And if all that wouldn’t be enough, a timer at the top right will keep ticking, steadily increasing a small difficulty-bar that urges you to press forwards in order to finish the level before the game finishes you.
As already stated, this game is a rogue-like. This means a lot of the elements of the game will not be directly explained and must be learned by doing (or dying). The items you get and the levels you experience are completely randomized each session. This may result in a “bad run” due to poor item drops, but also lets you wreak havoc as a god-like being that purges masses of enemies with ease.
Once you attain a certain set of items and the confidence to control your chosen character, you will very soon realize that thoughts like “just one more level” are invading your mind more often than you’d like. This is also due to the very clear mechanics and tight controls which leave only you to blame for every mishap that happens on-screen. Enemies, while sometimes overwhelming in their numbers, are very diverse but predictive in nature. Learning their movement and attack patterns is a key element to this game which keeps the learning curve steep but manageable.
Another motivating key feature to the game is the many unlockables. After each round (or death, however you might call it) you get presented with statistics and things that you unlocked. Those may either be new items, enemy logs and of course one of the 10 playable characters. Simply by playing you will find more and more of these items, which are not only fun to read about in the main menu log screen, but also make your game more diverse and sometimes easier, as some of the powerful items can even drop at the first level.
Then there are the 10 different classes to replay the game with, which not only look different, but all have different skill sets and advantages that you must learn to manage in order to be successful. With the game lasting around 20-50 min depending on your success you can easily switch classes and simply have another go at it until you find the class you can get along well with. The game also features 3 different difficulty settings which deliver the right amount of fun for every skill level. But be warned: this game is tough – already on medium settings, which is a good thing as it keeps you motivated to even beat the levels with a class you are not so familiar with. It’s a feeling that those “easy” games with their extra lives and save points simply cannot give.
The multiplayer Co-Op mode is a very solid addition to “Risk of Rain”. Not only does it feature a solid online component but also comes with a Local CoOp-Mode, which is a rare sight nowadays and a very praiseworthy by itself. This may sound weird in a way, but the game gets both easier in terms of that two guns do more damage than one, but also a lot harder in terms of that you have to share every random item that drops. Enemy toughness will of course also scale with the amount of players, making the earlier levels still hard to beat and encouraging team play.
With the amount of item-shops and crates being very limited in each level, you are inclined to move on quickly and as a team in order to gain the power needed to overcome the last boss. The more people you add the mix, the more difficult it will get to distribute the item load evenly, making a smart early choice of classes and roles almost obligatory. However one big advantage remains: The game only ends when all players have died, meaning that even one survivor in a party of up to 4 can end the level, getting the other teammates back into the game. This leads to very exciting “watch your teammate fight for his life” moments that yet even rogue-likes.
Ravaged Landscapes, Resounding Impressions
By looking at the screenshots you may have realized by now that the visuals on this game are nothing to be overly excited about. 8-Bit pixel styled games may have their second renaissance at the moment, but they are still a matter of personal taste and will probably turn a lot of people away. But to me the style of the visuals fits the game perfectly. All character sprites are well-designed, nice to look-at and brilliantly animated, which goes especially for the ten playable classes which all have a very distinct move pattern and animations. The game uses a reduced, grim-looking choice of colors which adds very well to the general feeling of “you are alone on an alien planet”. However, a big plus of this type of grafics is that the controls are pixel-perfect – something that can barely be achieved with 3D graphics. This game has a lot of platforming and agility-based elements, so you will need that precision in the visuals in order to time your jumps and evades perfectly.
But visuals left aside there is one thing that truly makes this game stand-out by itself: The gorgeous soundtrack. While the visuals do a good job at maintaining the setting of this game, the sound simply elevates it to a new level. A choice of electric, dark and ambient music in the first levels changes pace dramatically once you reach the later levels or are confronted with a boss. These are situations where the music truly carries the whole game by itself. The soundtrack is great to listen to on its own and it is a nice gesture of the developers to offer the original .ogg vorbis files directly within the game.
Minor Risk involved – Just play it!
All things considered this game has very much to stand in its favor and only few things to nitpick about. The graphics might be an arguable point and the difficulty may be a bit random at times, but the core of the game is rock-solid, fair and well-designed. It may be worth mentioning that there are still bugs in the 1.0 version that may keep the sound from working, but those things can be worked around by looking at the steam community posts. It doesn’t matter if you are playing by yourself or with some friends: grab this game and play a few hours – preferably using a gamepad – and you won’t be disappointed. “Risk of Rain” is one of the most surprising and fresh attempts at action-plattforming in the last months and it is well-worth your time.