Shoot-'em-up players are well known for enjoying a good graze. After all, who doesn't? Cows do, for example. But the important distinction between the bovine graze and the shmupper's graze is that the former involves feeding on grass while the latter refers to moving your craft close to bullets and other danger in order to accrue extra points or possibly fill some sort of secondary bar. So, they're not really the same thing at all, but the spirit is there. Okay, it's not. But the risk was taken, and that's what Risk System is all about.
Risk System is ostensibly a traditional horizontal shoot-'em-up akin to the likes of R-Type, but with stages based around patterns of enemy craft and projectiles rather than environmental hazards. Control is as simple as you'd expect - move with the D-pad or left stick, dodge roll up with the Y button and down with the B button, hitting A to use your barrier bomb.
In a strange, but ultimately rather smart move, Risk System has no fire button. Instead, your ship will autofire when aligned with enemies. This takes a moment or two to get used to but once you do, the purity of the game shines through. See, the central mechanic of Risk System is, erm, the risk system. That is, moving close to enemy bullets will cause you to "graze" them, making your barrier bar fill up. Once you fill it up by playing sufficiently riskily, you're essentially given a smart bomb (Barrier Breaker, here) that allows you to either traditionally clear the screen or do significant damage to a boss.
So far, so simple. The strength of Risk System is in its linearity. Of course, it's not a particularly surprising thing that a game in this genre would be linear, but Risk System - despite having some randomised elements to its stages - is tight. There's scope for scraping by the skin of your teeth, but you're generally encouraged to play well enough that you'll have a bomb in reserve when you really need it - and by "really need it", we mean you will take a hit if you don't have one ready to go.
Unlike many other shmups, you can take three hits here, and using your bomb to defeat grunt enemies causes them to drop tokens which can heal you. This may sound uncomfortably euro-shmup, but it doesn't have the loose design or jank you might expect from a shooter with a health system. Stages have diverse enough setpieces, but ultimately they all boil down to figuring out where the bullets are going to be, and then going near them.
It's difficult, but not unforgiving - if you die, you can simply restart the stage, and if you'd made it to the boss you'll go back to the start of the battle. Accessibility is the order of the day here, with the controls fully customisable to the point that the game can easily be played with one hand. It's laudable stuff and - before you all get cross in the comments - doesn't compromise the stiff challenge or the game's overall excitement.
There is some memorisation and repetition involved here, but it's only during the boss fights. The checkpointing of said battles is so generous that we found it difficult to be irritated by our myriad deaths before we'd figured out the pattern or "trick" to each boss, since the puzzle-like nature of each encounter is kind of the point. Still, though, we were a little annoyed by the boss battle that requires you to use rapidly-passing background detail as cover - the idea is fine, but executing the manoeuvre is a bit of a crapshoot given how fast things move.
Helpfully, then, Risk System is generally visually crisp and clear. There’s a fair amount of screen flash (enough to warrant an epilepsy warning at the top of the game), but these effects clearly communicate when your Barrier Breaker is fully charged - so they have a useful gameplay application. It all runs at a smooth, locked 60fps too – we’d expect nothing less from a game like this, but it's still worth praising the slickness and fidelity of the proceedings. Bullets are clear as day on the screen and the effects are non-intrusive - put basically the visual flash never gets in the way of the shooting action, which is all you can really ask for from a shmup.
Audio is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it's nice that the game has been fully voiced; the clips are brief, but good, adding personality to the boss battles and drip-feeding the story (which adapts to your rank/score, in a neat touch). The music, though, completely bypassed us. We spent a lot of time playing Risk System – a six-stage game – and we can barely recall at this time whether it even had music, such is the lack of impact it had on us. The sound effects are perfectly communicative of what they need to be, though, so the soundtrack isn’t a particularly big deal. You’ll be concentrating too hard to notice.
Risk System is an impressive game where it counts, and that’s in its taut, thoughtful and challenging gameplay. The polish of the design reminded us of the excellent run n’gun Bleed, with its focus on dodging and retaliating in linear stages, but of course here applied to the shmup genre. Other than higher ranks, there’s not much to rush back to in Risk System’s six short stages, but they’re sufficiently difficult enough to last genre non-veterans a good while. Absolute pro shmuppers may find it a little too breezy, but players of any skill level will be able to appreciate the exceptionally solid game on offer here. We say that there’s no risk of buyer’s remorse with this one.
I never thought I'd say this, but at the moment... I've too many shmups! In the last few months, I've picked up:
Natsuki Chronicles (PS4)
Task Force Harrier
Moose Life (PS4)
R-Type FInal (PS4)
That I can remember. I've got to stop somewhere.
Shmups 4 lyfe!
Very much appreciate the shmup coverage on this site. Thanks for the review!
@SpringDivorce I love Moose Life! Despite owning lots of deep and complex games for PSVR, Moose Life is probably my most played game on it.
To my shame, I've not played a huge amount of it yet. I did get into Polybius though, so I know I'll enjoy it when I have some time to spare.
Of all 2D shooters, i am not sure R-TYPE is the best comparative. But looks neat, will get it.
@SpringDivorce It's one of those classic cases where I played it a few times and died very quickly each time and then suddenly it just clicked and I was getting into the zone where I was no longer thinking and lasting longer and longer each run. Love it.
@SpringDivorce At one point I said I would buy every shmup on the switch. That didn't last. Although the list I don't have is smaller than the list that I do. The sad thing is that I'm garbage at playing this genre.
There's just as many shmups as there are Metroidvanias on Switch. Probably wouldn't get through them all.
I've heard that about Minter's game, but never quite experienced it. I made it about a third of the way through Space Giraffe (really couldn't tell what was going on there), I've managed about halfway through Polybius (that clicked a little when I played it in VR), and I'm so embarrassingly useless at Tempest 4k it's not even funny.
Wait, I did 1CC Minotron 2112 on iPhone, and got about three quarters through Gridrunner.
Thanks to this article and all the other shmups, I purchased it.
@SpringDivorce waaaaaait….Raiden? The first one?! OMG GIMME!
@SpringDivorce You don’t have enough shmups.
NINJA APPROVES EXCESSIVE SHMUP PURCHASES
Really good game, I suck at it though. I still need to git gud.
That's just the last month......
I've picked up pretty much everything on AA / Ages, I've still got my Cave X360 games (had to sell the imports sadly) and whatever I picked up online there (I know I need to go back and play Strania), a bunch of stuff on PS4.....
What I really need to do is settle on one damn shooter to completion!
@SpringDivorce Ah, welcome back shmup brother. That's sad that you had to sell the imports, but I understand that pain all too well. What's your favorite?
Shmups used to be one of my favorite genres many years ago. But, I dunno, they don't really speak to me anymore. I think they have changed to be too much about stuff like this grazing and bullet hells, etc. Just not my cup o' tea anymore. Glad to see the genre is still alive for others though.
No screenshots of the action? Guess this must be a dialog heavy shmup
@Dethmunk Now if only kill-em-ups would make a comeback (bubble bobble style platformers)
We really need some more Touhou
I have a fair few shmups to play though at the moment but it's good to have yet more quality on the eShop. Thanks for the review.
One to consider as a future purchase
Although I was terrible at it, I really enjoyed Muchi Muchi Pork. Unlike some of the more convoluted scoring systems Cave have used, this felt really natural and had a really good flow to it.
Love Mushi Black Label, though I'm not overly sold on the scoring system.
Really looking forward to the Toaplan games, I've not played Kyukyoku Tiger since getting rid of all my PC Engine gear, and I've been waiting for a home version of Flying Shark since I was a kid. I made do with the monochrome Spectrum version back then!
@SpringDivorce Excellent choices! Pork is hilarious and needs a re-release. Though, I'm sure it will be heavily censored, these days! Mushihimesama Futari Black Label also desperately needs a re-release. That's easily my favorite shmup of all time!
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