Ravegan (Steam/PS4/Xbox One)
|December 13th, 2018 (Switch)
|Switch, Steam, Xbox One
|E10+ for Everyone 10+
Not all SHMUPs are created equally. Ravegan’s Blue Rider title is certainly a testament to that. Where most in the genre would simply stick to the standard formula, Blue Rider takes a much different approach. It calls on a number of traditional gameplay elements found in arcade shoot ’em ups, but adds in the unique twist of having fully rendered 3D levels that players can traverse at their own pace. Originally released for Steam, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One between 2016 and 2017, Blue Rider was recently ported to the Nintendo Switch during the 2018 holiday season. For the purposes of this re-review, I’ll be focusing on that version alone.
As alluded to above, the level design in Blue Rider deviates from genre standards. Not only are all of the stages three-dimensional, but they aren’t the typical up or side-scrolling type either. Instead, each stage is a fully rendered 3D environment that players are able to move through in any direction. You’re able to backtrack too, so if you make it to the end of a stage and wish to go back to the beginning, you are free to do so. Each stage is comprised of multiple branching paths and gates that will need opened in order to progress. At the end of each level, you will encounter a boss enemy with its own unique weakness that needs exploiting. There are nine stages in total and each one has slightly different scenery. You begin in a jungle and end up trekking through a desert, a beach, a lush forest, a snowy forest, a sea of lava, and an industrial facility. What I found most fascinating about this was the fact that while every two stages were completely different, there was usually a stage in between where the first 50% of the environment would be the same as the previous level and the last half would slowly blend into the new environment of the next level. This was a nice touch and it made the game’s progression feel more natural. There are some SHMUPs where each stage is radically different and doesn’t seem to mesh with the others- not here.
A solid level design is only as good as the accompanying art design (in the case of SHMUPs at least). I actually changed opinions halfway through playing as I warmed up to the look and feel of things. Initially, I thought that everything looked just a bit too cartoon-like. While this is not always a bad thing, I wasn’t crazy about it at first. Having said that, about three stages in I was feeling it. Both the visual style and gameplay of Blue Rider evoke that arcade feeling that I think the developers were going for. The ship that you pilot looks a lot like one of the ghost vehicles from Halo and most of the enemies are some form of mech or foot soldier. It’s not everyday that you fight foot soldiers in a SHMUP, but then again your ship wasn’t made to fly. While I wasn’t overly crazy about the ship or enemy designs, the backgrounds and boss enemies were really neat. The backdrop of each level utilized a wide range of colors and these varied depending on the environment. My favorite levels were the forest ones where giant purple gems dotted the landscape.
I haven’t much to say about the music since it wasn’t all that memorable. None of the tracks stood out as bad or unfitting to me, but the soundtrack as a whole felt a tad generic. This isn’t all that surprising given that the genre as a whole tends to place more of an emphasis on gameplay (with notable exceptions of course). While not the end of the world, it is something to make a note of. As far as the sound-effects go, I was a bit more impressed. There were an adequate number of sound effects and they never felt misplaced or overused to me. There were even some sounds that I wasn’t expecting to appear which did. I mentioned above that several of the levels included these giant purple gems. I accidentally shot one of them at some point and was pleasantly surprised to hear the sound of glass being rattled. While this may seem minor, it demonstrates to me that the developers were paying attention to detail. They could’ve just as easily not put a sound effect in at all, relying solely on the sounds of your weapons instead.
The gameplay itself felt a little more mixed for me. Like any game in the genre, enemies will fire curtains of projectiles at you to deal damage. You can avoid these projectiles by dodging your ship away from them. Your offense consists of a primary and secondary weapon, both of which can be updated by gathering power-ups. Your primary weapon has unlimited ammo, but your secondary has a limited stock. You can also increase your damage by gaining “rampage” mode from similar power-ups. The ability to move your ship and camera in any direction allows you to dodge enemy fire fairly easily, but it also leaves you open to attacks from other enemies that might surprise you from behind. Herein lies one of Blue Rider’s biggest issues- the maneuverability of your ship. Not only does your ship look like that one from Halo, but it also controls in a similar, albeit slower fashion. In a game that requires you to avoid being hit by strings of projectiles, having a fast ship is a must. While having a ship that moves too quickly might offer the player an unfair advantage, the controls in this game just felt heavy. It wasn’t a large enough problem to prevent me from completing the game, but it is an important item to make a note of.
Another minor annoyance for me was the fixed camera angle. Yes, you can control the horizontal axis of your camera, but the vertical axis is fixed in an almost top-down position (somewhere near 70 degrees). One issue that you’ll notice right away with this is how easy it is to get lost when traveling through levels. I often found myself circling back to the start of each level due to not being able to see which path led where. Your field of view is limited to what is directly around you, not in the distance. While this could just be my personal preference, I would’ve either preferred the ability to zoom in and out at will or have the camera fixed slightly farther away from my ship.
Bearing in mind that I’ve only ever played this on the Nintendo Switch, the following technical issues may only pertain to this version. There are a few weird bugs that I encountered every so often while playing. Most of these pertained to the backgrounds and most were apparent only during the first few stages. At times, items in the background like plants would appear distorted and glitch across the screen. In one instance, there were some leaves on a plant that stretched into a solid green line which would jostle around the screen when I moved past it. None of these issues affected the gameplay, but they were present nonetheless. A somewhat larger problem which did affect gameplay was the frame rate. While the majority of the game ran at a brisk 60 fps, there were points where it would dip below 30. These moments were fairly sporadic, but the issue seemed to arise when too many enemies appeared on screen at once. Some of the more involved boss fights were also affected by this issue. I can’t say that the game ever dropped into the single digits, but slowdown was definitely apparent at times and that’s a real shame.
For the purposes of grabbing screenshots and unlocking all of the stages as quick as I could, I chose to spend most of my time playing on “easy” mode. There are of course “normal” and “hard” modes present as well should you wish for a greater challenge. The only differences that I noticed between these modes were the number of projectiles launched by enemies and the amount of damage which could be sustained before dying. If I may make a recommendation, I’d say it’s best to play through “easy” first to unlock all nine stages and then stick to normal from there on out. Be mindful as well that not all stages in the “easy” mode are easy anyway. Stage 8 in particular took me a while to complete because the terrain itself deals more damage to you than the enemies do. You have been warned.
Single playthroughs for arcade-style games often don’t last very long and such titles generally rely on replayability as a selling point. Blue Rider differs in that it actually took me a little over 2 hours to complete all nine stages on “easy”. While playing the two more difficult modes takes a bit longer, 2 hours for an easy mode is actually pretty impressive for such a game. I was expecting one sitting to last 30-45 minutes tops and was pleasantly surprised when it flew past that estimate. Once you’ve finished all nine stages, you can replay them at will with any difficulty. With that in mind, replayability exists here as well. Had the game been free from technical glitches, used a different approach for camera angles, and had more sensitive controls, I could’ve seen myself giving this one a 4/5. Having said that, those issues do dampen the score a bit, so I will settle on a 3.5/5 instead. Despite not being perfect, Blue Rider sets itself apart from its contemporaries and still deserves a look. It’s price on the Nintendo Switch eShop is only $9.99 USD and I think the pros definitely outweigh the cons at that point. If you’re looking for a SHMUP that’s both new and familiar at the same time, give this one a look.
Review Copy provided by the publisher for review purposes.