Originality is overrated. Taking chances, especially creative ones, will only net you 50/50 odds of success…or failure. This is why we seldom, if ever, see completely original or creatively “new” types of games from AAA developers; sequels and remakes are safer bets while reskinning older hits are money in the bank. Lather, rinse, repeat your way into a successful franchise, kids. This is how certain genres thrive, and how they die.
It’s funny to hear game reviewers derisively talk about, without a shred of irony, that [Game X] isn’t original, that you [The Player] have already seen it a million times before, etc., etc. It’s like they can’t imagine that not everyone has played a particular style of game a million times before like they have, that not everyone is as jaded as they’ve become. They don’t seem to know that being a glutton isn’t the same as being a gastronome. Consumption alone doesn’t make one a connoisseur.
By this metric the Marvel films should’ve all been panned and box-office disasters. Only original stuff, please. Yeah, right. Nine times out of ten, most of us take competency over originality any day of the week and that’s exactly what you get in Rigid Force Redux, a new-ish shooter without a shred of originality but that’s just fine. Supposedly ten years in the making, German developer com8com1 has taken their debut game Rigid Force Alpha and freshened it up console release. Originally available only for Switch and Xbox One this summer, it’s now available on the PlayStation 4.
Imagine that; a game with a decade-long development cycle that actually runs as good, if not better, on last-gen console machines as it does on PC? That’s something you don’t see every day.
There’s actually a real story here, which the game spends way too much time assuming you’ll be invested in, regarding the United Planet Freedom Forces and invading forces. It’s just a pretense to involve your chatterbox AI, the faux anime-styled AI Psye, who narrates things you can easily see for yourself and is completely voiced and completely annoying throughout the Main Mission mode. Mercifully, the game lets you change her voice-acting to either English, German and Japanese, which helps make the constant chatter more bearable.
That being said, the basic premise, controls, and gameplay of Rigid Force Redux IS something you’ve likely seen a million times, provided you’ve played any classic or modern shoot ‘em up at any time over the past thirty years. Shmups, as we insider-types like to call them, have come to look and feel a certain way, spawning several sub-genres of their own over the years – including the infamous “bullet hell” (i.e. danmaku) variety. Rigid Force Redux isn’t quite a bullet hell shooter, but it’s close.
You control a ship as it zips through a variety of horizontally scrolling backdrops, blasting waves and waves of enemies ships and giant bosses, evading obstacles and collecting power-ups to help increase your firepower and odds of victory. The most obvious inspiration here is Irem’s R-Type series, which Rigid Force gleefully apes its most famous gameplay mechanics – namely the power beam and floating orbs – to better inflict maximum damage.
The power beam lets you collect and store green energy specks, which can then be unleashed in a devastating wave of energy blasts that amplify whatever your current weapon is. These bits can be collected either by flying into them or holding your “attract” button, which pulls them in via a small gravitational circle around your ship. Doing so also reduces your flight speed, though, which actually has the added bonus of letting you maneuver tighter spaces with more precision when needed.
You’ve also got a small energy baton that can swat away enemies and their attacks, like a baseball bat, but this also depletes your power bar and isn’t very useful. Stick with the bullets and blasts.
Once filled enough you’ll be able to unleash a devastating wave of energy that destroys nearly everything in its path, making short work of smaller baddies and bigger bosses. Exactly what type of power beam you’ll unleash depends on your equipped weapon, which comes in the form of colored power-ups (yellow, blue, green) that give your ship an added boost of straightforward, diagonal, and homing action. Each weapon can be upgraded by collecting more of the same color for maximum effect.
These orbs, sorry, force shards, can be upgraded to serve as both additional weapons and mini shields as they help soak up bullets and can be positioned for additional firepower both in front of and behind your ship with a satisfying “click” sound. These add some necessary variety to the game and, when fully engaged, help give the presentation some added fireworks.
Visually the game looks fine, if a little dated. Everything has that clean post-PlayStation 2 style of polygonal design I’ve always liked (think R-Type Final or Contra: Shattered Soldier). Yes, things look a little plain but the game performs beautifully on every platform, even the Switch. What the graphics may lack in fidelity, they more than make up for in variety. Each level looks and feels entirely unique, each with its own unique waves of clueless baddies itching to be rendered into a billion smithereens of green power specks.
It’s all very Star Wars (the Original Trilogy) with its specific space, ice, and fire levels, complete with undulating space monsters serving as end-level bosses. I wish there had been more space fish throughout the six levels (or any space fish, really), but this isn’t Darius.
One issue related to the visuals that affects the gameplay is the tight hitbox around your ship, which is exacting and, well, rigid. Hit an enemy and you’ll lose a power orb, but hit an obstacle and you’ll die. This is fair, though the frantic gameplay often puts your slow moving ship into a few obstacles not easily avoided, and if (and when) you explode your ship might respawn into an inescapable place, meaning you’ll die again. That’s not fair and it’s frustrating when this happens. But hey, don’t get killed and there’s no problem, right?
The Arcade mode is exactly what you think it is; unlocked stages can be replayed, minus the forgettable story elements (and minus the annoying narrator), with the focus on blasting enemy waves to reach higher and higher scores. A fun addition here is how you can chain combos for even higher scores, if that’s your thing. There’s even a Boss Rush mode that is, again, exactly what it sounds like. Online leaderboards and achievements help pad out an already otherwise decent package.
A good shooter needs, at minimum, a good soundtrack. Rigid Force Redux is blessed to have a great soundtrack, courtesy of Dreamtime, that punches so far above its aural weight class it will stick with you long after you’ve moved on from the actual game. It’s very 80s sounding, or what people think is 80s sounding, anyway, every bit the type of throbbing sythscape you’re likely to hear on any number of indie Soundcloud or Bandcamp pages, but damn… it really is that good. I don’t usually do this, but visit Dreamtime’s page and give the soundtrack a chance.
Rigid Force Redux does pretty much everything a decent shmup is supposed to do, almost clinically so, and it’s a lot of fun while it lasts. You could say the game is a little on the short side, but I’d say it never overstays its welcome. Yes, it looks and feels like an R-Type clone, but there’s nothing wrong with a little imitation when it’s done correctly and the soundtrack is killer. Given there’s a new chapter in the mainline R-Type franchise on the way in the form of R-Type Final 2 from Granzella (itself formed by former Irem staffers) Rigid Force Redux could be the perfect opening act to get your fingers limbered up and ready for more.