Thursday Review: Risk of Rain

Risk of Rain is one of the few modern “roguelike” games that fall outside the genre that I accept as having a firm foundation in traditional roguelikes, perhaps more faithful than other games. I could get into the Berlin Interpretation and look further, but the truth of the matter is that Risk of Rain follows the conventions well; it’s a difficult but rewarding game that pushes the player’s skills to the limit while testing them in various ways. Don’t let its hardcore nature push you away, though, it’s a game that’s rewarding in many ways.
Perhaps I’ve been unfair to call Risk of Rain a roguelike up front. It’s really more than that. While it remains true to a lot of traditional roguelike play principles (11 of the 15, though more on the low-value end than the high-value end), it also doesn’t market itself as a roguelike, despite feeding a very similar itch.

And, looking at it, you’d be hard pressed to mistake Risk of Rain for a roguelike. While it’s a little iffy with the pixel scaling on my 1366×768 setup (I have large black borders on a 2x scale that can require a little straining of eyes), it’s still a beautiful game. As a pixel-art based title, a lot of its potential to succeed is based on the artistic merit, rather than the flashy special effects, it offers, and its juxtaposition of murky and vibrant colors both set a theme for the game and also provide a beautiful scene for players’ enjoyment. It gives me a feel that’s reminiscent of Cave Story, and I don’t have a single complaint about it other than the inability to do a full-screen upscale, which is not necessarily desirable for a number of reasons (and may not even be possible, depending on the tech powering the game).

Musically, the soundtrack is brilliant. It’s high-energy without becoming too repetitive; as someone whose multiple runs of the game tended to be on the longer side, it has a soundtrack that’s still mystifying, satisfying, and exciting depending on the time and mood. I’ve even got it going in the background right now, so I can vouch for its quality being more than just the consequence of a passive observation.

The main concern I’d have for prospective players is the caveat that you don’t get a lot of choices or flexibility when you start playing; only one class is available, and the rest have to be unlocked through play. This isn’t super problematic, but if you like variety you’ll likely spend a few hours slogging through with the Commando. For the most part classes, despite having radically different play styles, are pretty similar in performance, and switching is more a matter of personal taste than upgrading.

As a final note, I had major performance issues, particularly with my long games. This isn’t really how RoR is meant to be played, but I noticed that around the 40 minute mark my game basically crawled to a halt, and by two hours in a single game (talk about dedication) I’d had the same problem even with frameskip enabled.

So, in short, a good game, though not one for anemic systems or for those who don’t like the concept of losing a few times. I’d recommend it to anyone, and it’s certainly on my list of games to revisit when I get some more time.

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