By the time the fifth generation of hardware arrived, 3D polygons in video games were nothing new. What changed was the available home consoles' power to manipulate them, forcing developers to adapt and evolve. Overnight, hundreds of 2D game series had full-3D makeovers with mixed success, but for the humble shmup, the move was more straightforward: replace sprites and backgrounds with polygons while keeping the 2D core gameplay. The rise of the 2.5D shooters brought us timeless classics such as Einhänder, G-Darius, Thunderforce V and R-Type Delta.
Developer com8com1 must surely have been taking notes during this period, because Rigid Force Alpha, a 2018 Steam-based take on the genre, could very easily pass as an amalgamation of gameplay elements taken from these legendary titles. Now, two years later, Alpha has become Rigid Force Redux for its debut on Switch – the system that has arguably become the current de-facto home of the shmup.
The game kicks off with a welcome tutorial showcasing all of the controls for your ship. Don't skip it, as there is valuable information which is also very all nicely narrated in a choice three flavours (English, German and Japanese) by your ship's AI, PSYE. Shmup instincts might lead your left thumb to the digital D-Pad by default, but this game presents proper analogue stick control and we found it to be essential when navigating some of the later levels, while boss battles require more finesse than is really possible with digital input. The precision movement is welcome, but the real star of the show here is the weapons system.
The B button fires your regular weapon. Shmup tradition means you start with a straightforward rapid-fire peashooter, but you can pick up a blue straightforward shot, a yellow wide-angle shot and an extremely useful green rebound shot. These are also complemented with missile pickups that can go from dumb-fire vertical variants to bombs and the ever-useful seekers. Anything you bring down will leave behind tiny green glowing specks which you can collect and store as energy, a task aided with a squeeze of the ZR trigger, which slows your ship down while sucking all pickups towards you.
Press Y and you can use this stored energy (displayed on the bottom of the screen by an easy-to-read green bar) to supercharge your main weapon to ridiculous levels, or instead use A to release a sweeping beam-sword that will remove any nearby enemy bullets. Abuse any of these systems and you'll find yourself without energy when you're in direst need of it – namely the end of level boss fights.
One last trick remains on your arsenal: the Force Shards. Pick one up and you'll find a very 'R-Typish' Force module bolts to the front of your ship. Pick up three more and you'll have a complete set, multiplying your current main weapon's firepower fourfold. Now for the clever strategic twist: hitting L and R lets you cycle your Force Shard setup into a tight or spread formation, either in front or behind your ship. When fully upgraded, the firepower of your ship – along with the on-the-fly position change – means you're blessed with tremendously versatile and satisfactory gameplay mechanics. Force Shards also serve as a life bar, with hits on your ship destroying one shard instead of resulting in a one-hit death. It's a shame that the level design rarely offers chances to use them in their full potential.
Take a look at the screenshots that complement this review and it is easy to see where the inspiration for the entire design and art style came from. From the flat-shaded polygons, the ship's design and even some of the enemies patterns, everything screams R-Type. One of the best aspects of Rigid Force Redux is also one of its downfalls: it's very generic and you will have seen it all before, but at least it runs at a flawless pace with brilliant lighting and particle effects in both docked and portable modes. The action is further complemented by an excellent synthwave soundtrack by Dreamtime, and the overall sound design is on point.
Another issue we stumbled upon – one that echoes back to the original Steam release – is the length of your mission. The game is made up of six stages that see you starting your assault in orbit by breaching a military blockade and invading an occupied space station before dropping down to planet Therra to tackle three more levels that fall into the desert/ice/fire visual categories. Finally, you blast off to orbit one last time to take on the source of the bad guys.
It should come as no surprise to learn that at the end of each level there is a unique boss that will test your skill in clever and varied ways, but on the easier difficulty, we completed the entire game under thirty minutes – and that was on our maiden run, too. Replay incentive comes in the form of Arcade and Boss Rush extra modes, along with online leaderboards and 40 achievements to earn. These sadly can’t hide the fact that once you have figured out the enemy and boss patterns, you are still replaying those same six levels over and over again. This is a real shame because about twice the amount of levels would easily place this one on the upper echelons of the Switch shmup list.
Rigid Force Redux is a short but extremely sweet 2.5D shmup that fans of the genre will find appetizing, while everyone else will likely praise its accessibility when stacked against Japanese bullet hell blasters. While we admit that the game is very derivative and sadly does not use the interesting core mechanics to their full potential, it still remains a truly enjoyable experience that plays, looks and sounds like a dream – it's just a shame that this dream is so fleeting. However, considering the long wait ahead for the release of R-Type Final 2, Rigid Force Redux does a decent enough job of filling the void.