Two Tribes, prior to its closure and restructuring in early 2014, had a broad range of games and genres both developed in-house and as part of its publishing arm. Toki Tori was the best known of its titles, a cute - albeit tricky - puzzler that branched out across consoles and smart devices. The company's downfall, in the end, was a level of growth that wasn't then rewarded in sales of the long-developed Toki Tori 2, which prompted a restart with the original founders - Martijn Reuvers and Collin van Ginkle - teaming up and going back to basics.
It's was perhaps surprising, then, when the studio's first new project was announced as RIVE, an intense action shooter with elements of platforming and a neat 'hacking' mechanic. It's a handsome, full-on title and featured in the E3 [email protected] promotion this year, giving it welcome additional exposure.
Just recently we sat down with both developers for an extended session looking at the latest build of the title on PC, and it's progressing nicely. An early point was made that the team is keen to get the game right and up to scratch for launch, meaning its arrival will most likely be next year, by the time coding and testing are fully complete. What is in place has evolved and improved since we last saw it, however, so it's clear that the studio has a renewed sense of momentum.
For those that have played the E3 demo the general gameplay should be familiar by now, with a side-scrolling shmup opening then making way for action-intensive platformer shooting, with some very basic puzzle solving thrown in with hidden paths or the use of hacking. You hack robots of various kinds which can provide support such as health regeneration or extra gunning, and some sections necessitated us successfully getting both ourselves and the support bot through tricky areas.
Controls have had a revamp since we last played RIVE, with the right stick now constantly shooting as opposed the old system of aiming and using a separate button to shoot. In addition there's increased depth of secondary weapons with four types assigned to the face buttons; they vary from seeking missiles to the equivalent of a powerful shotgun-style blast, with more besides. As a result power-up drops come in the form of valuable health but also sub weapon ammo, as you actually only have one sub-weapon shot at a time; the emphasis is on using these powerful extras tactically and keeping your eyes peeled for additional ammo.
All of this plays into an experience that'll be largely linear with humorous narrative thrown in. The move to a structured experience makes sense for a game as full-on as this, and is perhaps a reaction on the developer's part to the criticisms and issues with the length and open-ended puzzle approach of Toki Tori 2. This is very much the yin to that yang - a shorter game that goes for excitement and structure rather than a lengthy and headscratching journey.
One change we also noticed from the E3 build - and the one before that - is the level of difficulty. We played for well over an hour and started a little later in the game, and we died a lot. Yet the key to the borderline sadistic difficulty is the lack of any lives system and extremely regular checkpointing. The aim is to have checkpoints at pretty much every tricky encounter, with the effect that a death is followed by a rapid respawn and another attempt. To say it tapped into our 'one more try' instincts is an understatement.
This game is brutal, and the Two Tribes team has no intention of softening the difficulty. When asked whether it would be toned back to accommodate more players the answer was, basically, a no. This is designed for skilled gamers that want a challenge, and in our session - in the interest of seeing more in our time with it - we had to hand the controller over a couple of times. Even Reuvers, who's designing many of these tough stages, hit the occasional section that necessitated a few retries.
Yet the quick death / quick respawn approach is undoubtedly addictive if you're game for a challenge, and we found ourselves instinctively learning new strategies. Some areas - typically those with some hovering and anti-gravity involved - were rather like high-tempo shooter puzzles in their own respect, and a death was often followed by a sudden moment of realisation. Mistakes are punished, for sure, but there is always a way; even if occasionally the solution requires split-second timing or some innovative thinking.
RIVE, then, is an intense experience. There are clever moments where you ride a train or dodge lava and swarms of enemies with improbable double jumps, and it drew us in. It also looks and sounds fantastic - we acknowledge that the PC version will be a step up visually on the eventual Wii U iteration, but even so we're optimistic. We're hopeful that Two Tribes also successfully replicates the slick framerate on Wii U, which is important both in terms of gameplay and the visual impact.
Though the wait is ongoing, we're rather excited about RIVE. Its blend of intense shmup action with aspects of high-octane platforming is enticing; it's definitely something to watch out for on Wii U.