In this era of big deal brutal difficulty in games where progress is sometimes measured in thrown controllers, assorted creative swearing and online rage posts (among other negative things) Canadian developer Cocucumber’s simpler, pure fun to play Riverbond ($24.99) is a rare bird indeed. In solo mode, it’s barely mildly tough at times, but the average player should have little trouble getting through its eight nicely-sized maps without blowing a fuse. In co-op, up to four players can have at it in front of the TV and have a total blast beating up enemies and bosses while packed together on the couch or sitting more comfortably on some other furniture. There’s no online mode here, so the game’s old school feel demands you play old school as well.
Which, by the way is a great thing especially if you’re into family friendly entertainment and love super-colorful voxel graphics with a bit of environmental destruction tossed into the mix. Oh, and lots of character skins including eight from a few very cool mostly indie-made games. For all the bloodless hacking, slashing and shooting going on, the game just exudes a completely… nice vibe that’s too charming to pass up. I think there’s also a polite Canadian thing going on (well, all of the Canadians I know are pretty polite), but whatever it is, I do like it quite a lot.
Here’s the tutorial, by the way:
The straightforward approach here works well enough to keep the action flowing, but despite some RPG-like elements, this isn’t one at all. There are no levels to gain, you can only carry five weapons at a time, you’ll see NPCs in a few places, but interaction is generally limited to a few lines of text that are mostly plot-related. There are no shops, inns, or other standard RPG hot spots. Maps are one run and done affairs (something that I hope gets tweaked or perhaps expanded as free DLC) and even scoring is more about overall bragging rights, especially if you beat a stage’s boss battle target time. One cool thing is enemies aren’t invincible to their own attacks, which means once you realize this, you can guide some ranged baddies to shoot your way and damage or take out their cohorts. Cheap, yes but satisfying in areas where things get really hectic.
There are a few bigger quirks in the game such as enemies not being able to spot you when you’re in the water even if you’re right next to them, and some parts where stair height leaves you or enemies almost invincible (you can take advantage of this for cheap attacks by jumping to hit foes one step above you). You also can’t carry some of the better weapons you’ll acquire to new maps, meaning you’ll default to the basic sword and gun duo you find in that tutorial stage. Granted, they work well enough to to dispatch most minor enemies, but it’s too much of a tease to end a level with some great weapons only to have a new area start off without them. Finally, some of the skins you’ll get don’t seem to want to activate in some maps or worse, can’t even be selected when you replay the game from the beginning. This will hopefully be patched sooner than later or at the very least, taken into account for a sequel, which this game deserves.
I can see some of the more “hardcore” gamers out there deeming to doom this game as “too easy” because it doesn’t strait-jacket itself into the Souls/Bourne Survival/Crafting mentality too many games share these days. But hell, not every game needs to shoehorn itself into the exact same boxes and double hell, even gamers who aren’t as skilled as those folks kind of need games they can complete without wanting to sling a shoe at their TV screen. With its couch co-op, no penalty demises, decent checkpoint system and easy to grasp controls, I can definitely recommend this game to players of any skill level. That said, I do wish the in-game tunes were a bit more lively. The soundtrack is fine, but a bit too ambient, unlike the music found in the trailer, which was pretty perfect at setting a “retro” mood.
In an odd way, Riverbond reminded me of the first Torchlight, which shipped as a straightforward ARPG with a striking art style (a sort of Diablo meets Disney thing) before getting a vastly improved follow-up (finally coming to PS4 and other consoles soon). Cococucumber can expand on what’s here and make a really fun to play game even more so as they’ve more than certainly laid out a superb foundation to build a sort of indie empire upon.
Score B+ (85%)
Review code provided by the publisher