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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (476)

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No Man's Sky 4/5
Dragon Quest Monsters: ... 4/5
Assassin's Creed IV: Bl... 2.5/5
Tiny Tina's Wonderlands 3.5/5
Ratchet & Clank: Rift A... 4.5/5
Super Mario Bros. Wonder 4.5/5
The Alliance Alive 2/5
Catmaze 4.5/5
Turnip Boy Commits Tax ... 4.5/5
Seasons After Fall 3/5
Rayon Riddles - Rise of... 0.5/5
World to the West 4/5
MechWarrior 5: Mercenar... 4/5
Streets of Kamurocho 2.5/5
Aeon of Sands - The Tra... 2.5/5
Greak: Memories of Azur 3.5/5
Yaga 2.5/5
Riverbond 3/5
Bug Fables: The Everlas... 4.5/5
Front Mission 1st Remake 1.5/5
Middle-earth: Shadow of... 3.5/5
Bladed Fury 3.5/5
Ruzar - The Life Stone 3.5/5
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin 3.5/5
Mighty Switch Force! Co... 2.5/5

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Riverbond   PC (Steam) 

Low-Key Coop Silliness for All Ages    3/5 stars

“Riverbond” is the second game from Toronto-based Indie studio, Cococucumber (not to be confused with Cocomelon). This studio, which began releasing games in 2015, has endeavored to build a reputation for creating cute, stylized, voxel-based games. I say ‘endeavored’ because even as closely as I watch Games Industry release schedules in my neverending hunt for the Next Great Game… I had never heard of them. Ultimately, the only reason “Riverbond” is in my PC game collection is because Epic Games gave it away as part of their weekly freebies program some time back. While I would have been perfectly happy to let an unknown quantity like “Riverbond” to languish forever, unplayed in the middle (or bottom) layers of my Backlog, one thing about it made an impression: LOCAL COOP! Thus, it ended up on the MJ Crew’s list of potential games to coop through in person, and when Chris told me to “roll some dice” to choose the order we played through them, “Riverbond” ended up on top.

Presentation
“Riverbond” takes place in a world created entirely from voxels. For most of us, the last time we heard the word ‘voxel,’ it was in relation to Silicon Studio’s 2010 PlayStation 3 exclusive, “3D Dot Game Heroes.” To clarify, a voxel is a 3D cube that functions like a pixel would in 2D environments, allowing 3D environments, objects, and characters to be crafted in a ‘chunky pixel’ style that’s at the midpoint between “Minecraft’s” bizarre cubism and old-school sprite-based artwork. “Riverbond” looks pretty much like one would expect a voxel-based game to look, with a wide variety of chunky environments inhabited by chunky NPCs and chunky enemies. Even the game’s wide variety of weapons each have their own unique look, and ranged weapons fire an interesting variety of projectiles. Character animation, however, if fairly minimalist and basic.

Audio in “Riverbond” is a good fit for the visuals, with a variety of mellow tunes to accompany the action. Meanwhile the fully unvoiced cast of NPCs speaks in a bizarre sequence of chirps and bloops to accompany their text boxes.

“Riverbond” is fairly solid from a technical perspective, but does have a few significant annoyances. First, Chris and I cooped through the game in three sessions, but discovered that the game failed to record our progress or unlock Epic Achievements for the second session. It matters little, as the games 9 missions can be played in any order and all are unlocked from the start, but it did make it hard for us to remember exactly where we left off. The game supports Xinput for multiplayer out of the box, and happily picked up my XBONE Elite and Chris’ Xbox 360 controllers. However, during one heated boss battle, my dog unplugged Chris’ controller from my USB hub (actually, he pulled apart the Xbox 360 controller’s weird proprietary-to-USB adapter splice), and when I plugged it back in, instead of returning control of Player 2 to Chris, it made him into Player 3, with Player 2 stuck being controlled by my wireless typewriter… that boss battle proved particularly long and tedious.

Story
“Riverbond” tells a bizarre, low-key story about the end of the world. I think.

Taking place in a world of talking animals who worship beings called Eldra Spirits, our hero(es) can be a wide variety of anthropomorphic animals, cameo characters from other Indie games, and… food. Either way, our heroes appear in the world, and are soon accosted by an NPC who explains the basics of questing and asks the player(s) to take care of some trivial task. Upon completion of said task, passage to the next section of the chosen mission opens, and the player(s) move onto the next trivial task. And so on, and so forth. Each area within each mission houses a number of talkative NPCs who spill bits of world lore, but ultimately it all comes off as simultaneously strange and forgettable.

Each of the game’s 9 missions are available from the outset, but even as iffy as the storytelling is, playing them in order is definitely advised, since the problems the NPCs need help with in each mission typically proceed from the problems from the previous mission. All of this low-key questing culminates in a rather non sequitur boss fight.

In addition to being a bit weird and nonsensical, “Riverbond” is also incredibly short, clocking in at around 6 hours (and that’s generous, considering Chris and I accidentally replayed some of the missions because the game failed to flag them as “complete” and we forgot which ones we’d done). In spite of all those caveats, though, I can’t say I hated or even really disliked the game from a narrative perspective. And at least it tried to cram some narrative value into a short, cute Action game, where so many platformers (even by big names like Nintendo) don’t even try.

Gameplay
“Riverbond” is a cute, lightweight Action/Adventure game, only simplified and streamlined to the point that it’s incredibly kid/noob friendly. The action takes place from a ¾ top-down perspective, with a fixed camera. Our heroes can run around, jump, climb ladders, swim (including up waterfalls), and deploy their weapons against both enemies and helpless bits of the environment. Environmental destruction seems like it wants to be a big part of the gameplay, and the characters can pick up objects (or pieces of objects) and chuck them at enemies. However, thrown items only do minimal damage, and while it’s a neat visual effect to see environmental objects smashed down into their basic voxels, it’s really only a novelty.

Instead, most of the player’s activities will be devoted to weapon combat. Each mission, the hero(es) start with a basic sword and a basic gun, which deal basic damage with basic performance. Finding treasure chests – which are in fixed locations in each mission – allows the player(s) a chance at either a new weapon or a new character skin. Weapons come in a huge variety of archetypes, with varying attack speeds, swing styles, ranges, etc., and each player can equip 5 of them to their weapon bar to freely switch between. Skins, on the other hand, are purely cosmetic. While each weapon chest has pre-determined contents based on the mission, skin chests grant random skins, and replaying missions to re-open them is the only way to unlock the entire stable of playable characters available.

Each mission takes place across several sub-sections, with each sub-section revolving around a specific goal: Perhaps killing a certain number of enemies… or something friendlier, like rescuing puppies, rekindling shrines, or recovering lost library books. None of these missions require any great amount of brainpower or dexterity to overcome, and there's absolutely no penalty for death. As a result, “Riverbond” is one of the only games out there that I might deign to qualify as… ‘too easy.’

That said, “Riverbond’s” overall low level of resistance prevents it from becoming tedious or frustrating. Plus, for those who really want to ‘git gud’ at such a casual game, there are, indeed, online leaderboards for people who want to go for high scores by finding all of the hidden points in each mission, while simultaneously blitzing through with the fastest speedrunner times possible.

Overall
For a game that only came into my sphere of awareness through random chance and only ended up next in the MJ Crew’s coop play queue due to random chance… “Riverbond” is kinda alright. While the story is mostly nonsense and the focus on collecting random character skins is rather silly, the fact that “Riverbond” is a complete game at least makes it average. In our coop playthrough, though, we found the game to be rather formulaic, simplistic, and boring. That said, we can definitely see the appeal of “Riverbond” to parents with younger kids who want to ease them into gaming, and do so cooperatively. For that specific niche – and ONLY that specific niche – I’d say “Riverbond” could get an extra overall point added to its score. For everyone else, though, it’s ultimately a throwaway title destined to be forgotten.

Presentation: 3/5
Story: 3/5
Gameplay: 3/5
Overall (not an average): 3/5

 

 


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