RIVE has proven to be an interesting project - it's a truly challenging and smart twin-stick shooter that is a swansong for Two Tribes. The studio brought us some excellent titles over a number of years, but decided that it would make one final game before moving on to new things.
Originally planned for the Wii U eShop, that version proved difficult on a technical level and was eventually replaced with a promised Switch eShop release. Two Tribes has now confirmed that the game is still progressing - with assistance from Engine Software - and has announced a new feature for the Switch version: Copilot Mode. Designed to put the local multiplayer capabilities of the Switch into action, it allows one player to pilot the ship and the other to shoot. When you die you 'switch' roles, making it a potentially fun way to tackle the game in co-op. Those that want to take it on solo with dual-stick controls can do so, of course.
Although not quite ready to give a release date, Two Tribes have answered some of our questions about RIVE on Switch, including points regarding framerate and resolution. Two Tribes writer and marketer Niels ’t Hooft and company co-founder / lead engineer Martijn Reuvers teamed up to give us more information about what should be an enjoyable release on the Switch.
When we last spoke you were awaiting the reveal of the 'NX' to see whether it would be a good fit for RIVE. When the system was revealed as the Switch last year, what were your initial thoughts on the hardware?
We loved it! Nintendo did well to combine the handheld and console concepts like this. And we immediately thought it was brilliant that local multiplayer is built in with the Joy-Cons. That definitely triggered us.
Did the concept seem like a good immediate fit for RIVE, or were you unsure about how the project would work on the system?
People have been asking for a portable version of RIVE for a long time. We're not exactly sure what, but there's just something about 2D games on handhelds that feels right. Well, the Switch version is that portable version, with the added bonus that you can play it on your TV too!
We did worry somewhat about the local multiplayer part. The Joy-Cons are so inviting, but when used separately they don't have enough buttons for RIVE's full-fledged twin-stick gameplay. On top of that, you know Two Tribes has been unwinding since we finished RIVE, so we didn't have the resources to develop a full co-op mode or a two player combat mode. Luckily we were able to come with something smart in the form of the Copilot Mode!
Did talks start relatively quickly with Nintendo, and at what point did you start to discuss the project with Engine Software?
Because of our history with Nintendo, we were always in discussions with them. Talks with Engine Software started around the time when RIVE on Steam and PlayStation 4 were done. Development really begun when we were done with RIVE 1.1, a big free update that added some new modes and important tweaks.
Can you explain the work dynamic between you and Engine Software? How has the workload been shared?
Engine Software is in charge of porting Two Tribes' internal engine to the Nintendo Switch. We take care of the Copilot Mode, Switch-specific things like button layouts, and game-related optimizations. Luckily we've known Engine for years and years, which helps things go smoothly.
In the past you highlighted issues getting the game to deliver a solid 60fps on Wii U, and said that was a factor (along with the declining Wii U eShop market) in holding that version back. Has that been an issue at any stage on Nintendo Switch?
The game runs at 60fps at the moment, aside from a few problematic busy areas, which we're working on right now. As a point of comparison: on Wii U the (relatively simple) introduction scene didn't even run at 60fps. But right when we got it to run on the Switch, most of the game already flowed smoothly. A big, big difference. On top of that, the Wii U had less memory than the Switch, making it impossible for us to pre-cache all data (which enables faster loading times).
For those unclear on the system’s capabilities, how does the Switch’s performance compare (docked and undocked) to the Wii U?
This is hard to say, as we didn't profile them side-by-side. We can only say that it's faster than the Wii U and fast enough to run RIVE, while on Wii U it would've been very hard without reverting to 30fps.
Are you confident of a rock-solid 60fps while both docked and undocked, and are we looking at a native 720p in portable mode and 1080p on the TV?
A solid yes to a solid 60fps! And, indeed, 720p in portable mode and 1080p on TV.
You've confirmed Copilot Mode for the system, can you summarise that for our readers?
Copilot Mode is, as the name suggests, all about controlling Roughshot's Spider Tank together. Think of Han and Luke manning the gun turrets in the Millennium Falcon, while Chewy is steering the vessel. Although the Spider Tank has just one gun turret.
This fits the available buttons on the Joy-Cons perfectly, and even allows the moving player to jump with the A button… an oft-heard request from players that simply isn't possible in RIVE's normal gameplay modes because you need, really need, your right thumb on the right stick to shoot while jumping.
As soon as you die (and this happens a lot in RIVE), the move and attack roles are reversed, so you both get to try either jumping or shooting through intense situations. This turns out to be a lot of fun!
Does the high difficulty of the game suit Copilot Mode particularly well, then; how so?
RIVE is all about combining two complex hand-eye coordinating tasks: maneuvring your Spider Tank in 360 degrees (a little fewer degrees when you're in a gravity area), and shooting your enemies in 360 degrees. When you get good at it, it's like you're dancing with your enemies, jumping over them and shooting at the same time. But it's super hard to achieve that level of deftness.
In Copilot Mode you might be able to play even better than normal, as each of you can focus on just one of these two complex tasks. You have to communicate well though, you have to keep talking. We're super curious whether people will be able to set new records playing Copilot!
How do you most enjoy playing RIVE on the Switch? Solo on the portable, or on the TV, or perhaps in Copilot Mode?
Copilot Mode has the benefit of freshness, as well as fun/awkward social situations, so we'll go with that. It really fits in with Switch's versatile setup, which always adapts to your situation. In case of RIVE, when you're playing alone and a friend pops by, you just flip the Copilot switch in the in-game settings and off you go, playing together.
At trade shows, showcasing RIVE, we saw a lot of people hand the controller to a friend when they couldn't beat a tough situation. We’ve heard of a lot of people playing like this at home, too. And this play style is now essentially built-in with the Copilot Mode.
There are various other modes and options included to boost the content on offer, can you explain these for our readers?
Let's see. We have Campaign, 6+ hours of intense battles, crazy setpieces and funny dialogue to play through, and in Missions you can try to get a better score per mission. Then there is Speedrun, for obvious purposes, and Single-Credit. Amazingly, dozens of players have already finished RIVE without dying a single time!
Then, when you're totally done with the main game, we still have the daily Challenges and infinite Battle Arenas to continue with.
As you move towards completing RIVE for Nintendo Switch, is it a particularly emotional time for you as a team?
We're just really happy to be able to bring RIVE to a wider audience. Especially the Nintendo audience, which is very dear to us. We've always held the Nintendo aesthetic in high regard here at Two Tribes, both their visual style and game feel, and you can definitely see some of that in RIVE.
Of course, we promised Nintendo gamers a Wii U version, a promise we sadly couldn't keep. But this version is miles ahead of what that version was turning out to be, so in that sense it’s for the best.
Is this still the final Two Tribes game, or do you think there'll be a change of heart?
We haven't changed our tune. We still won't be making any new games at Two Tribes. However, if RIVE on Switch does well, we'll consider bringing it to even more platforms, and we'll consider bringing some of our earlier games to Switch. So in short, even though we're not starting any new projects from scratch, we're as committed as ever to our existing game library and our existing fans.
Do you have a final message about RIVE on Nintendo Switch that you'd like to share with our readers?
We think RIVE is the best game we've made, and we hope that people will enjoy the Switch version. We’re so glad that we’re close to finishing it! We’ll have a release date for you soon.
We'd like to thank Niels and Martijn for their time.