Games Review: RIVE: Ultimate Edition (Switch, 2017): A heady genre blend

It’s been five years since disaster befell Dutch developer Two Tribes B.V. and a large percentage of their staff were retrenched, spelling the end for the studio. They were not, however, prepared to go down without a fight and the remaining staff battled on to complete what would become Two Tribes’ last game, a twin-stick shooter called RIVE.

After a false start on the Wii U, RIVE eventually found its way to Steam, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The version that was originally meant to debut on the Wii U was repurposed for the mysterious console then known as the Nintendo NX.

The Nintendo Switch release of RIVE: Ultimate Edition marks Two Tribes’ official end and, good to their word, they have gone out with a bang.

RIVE represents a jumble of genres, sitting at the Venn diagram intersection of “Metroidvania,” “Metal Slug” and Twin Stick Shooter. You play a nameless space junker who pilots a Spider Tank into derelict ships, stripping them of saleable resources. Its on one of these jobs that his adventure begins. Having successfully rounded up enough loot to live on for now, our hero goes to leave only to find his ship locked down by the derelict’s still-functioning AI. With the AI refusing to let him leave, our hero goes looking for another way out, a journey that will become a do-or-die fight for survival.

Image Source: Two Tribes

Your Spider Tank is controlled in the manner of a twin-stick shooter, left to move, right to aim and shoot. Pressing ZR will switch to a secondary weapon, purchasable with bolts picked up from defeated enemies at various stores throughout the game. ZL allows the Spider Tank to jump around.

What the Switch version of the games allows is an entirely new mode called Co-Pilot. Co-Pilot allows you to divide the work of controlling the Spider Tank with a second player. Snap off the Joy-Cons, hand one to a mate and you’re on your way. Player One will move the Tank about and Player Two does all the shooting.

While the entire campaign makes up one long journey through the guts of the derelict starship you, essentially, came to rob, each section of the ship is presented as its own individual mission. In terms of total play time, RIVE isn’t a particularly long game, no more than a couple of hours when strung strung together. This won’t be a problem for most because the game is challenging enough that few will complete it in a single run. There’s also score and combo multipliers for those who like to re-run levels and get on the online leaderboards. Likewise, there’s also a speed-run mode that encourages the competitively minded to post their best level-to-level run times. To round out the suite of very 80’s feeling score and time attack modes, there’s also One Credit Mode, a permadeath mode which gives the player a single life and no continues with which to complete a specific mission or the whole campaign. You die, you start over. For achievement hunters aware that the Switch does not natively feature acheivements, you’ll be pleased to know that Two Tribes have simply made them a part of the game instead, and actually upped the number of them found in other versions to 48, adding a bunch just for the new Co-Pilot mode. Go forth and unlock.

RIVE is no slouch in the visuals department either. The game’s beautiful 2.5D visuals lend themselves well to the twisting, metal innards of the derelict ship. What’s more, its another title that moves along at 1080p resolution and 60 frames per second on the Switch, which is always a pleasant bonus. Add to this the ability to jump the Switch off its dock and take the game with you and what you have is one of the best mobile stick shooters in years.

Source: Two Tribes

Is it perfect? No, there are plenty of minor issues that keep RIVE from being a completely joyful experience. Wonky respawn placement can easily land your Spider Tank right next to enemies so that you’re instantly damaged again with no way to avoid it. In the worst cases, your Tank simply explodes a second time, effectively throwing another life away for no good reason.

I also found I had a way more comfortable time playing when using the Pro Controller over the Joy-Cons, particularly where aiming was concerned. Your mileage may vary, and it certainly makes the Co-Pilot mode more difficult, but consider yourself warned.

Beyond this, it’s hard to mark RIVE down. There’s a playfulness that permeates the whole game, and a sense of humour that is both a suit of armour and a bit of a pointed spear. If anything, RIVE is a clear indicator of where Two Tribes was at as a team — their company in turmoil, their project on the line. They’ve taken the stresses of that time and made their project the release valve. They took their pain and turned it into something truly enjoyable and fun. And friends, you can’t ask for much more than that.

Score: 8.5 out of 10
Highlights: Interesting genre blend; Genuinely funny writing; Tight design
Lowlights: Some inconsistent respawns; Joy-Con controls may bother some
Developer: Two Tribes B.V.
Publisher: Two Tribes B.V.
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Available: Now

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch with retail code provided by the developer.