Switch version tested
Review code provided
Since the beginning of time, people have often borrowed inspiration from one another to further push ideas, concepts and much more. In the world of video games, much like the movies, for every horribly rushed knock off one always finds a way to somehow do things better than the original, rest assured Rift Keeper is NOT that one.
Quietly landing on the Nintendo Switch, Rift Keeper from developer/publisher Sometimes You, is the latest entry in the roguelike procedurally generated level action platformer genre. Made uber-popular by the genres reigning king Dead Cells Rift Keeper lands without the soul or fun painstakingly integrated into the former.
You play as the titular Rift Keeper. You have arisen from your slumber to keep safe the lands you are sworn to protect. After ages of prosperity the land has been overtaken by a horrible darkness called the… well the first 2 sentences there are true. The lack of any real true story to emotionally reel players in stands out as a sign of things to come. Given the roguelike nature of the game, death is inevitable. Whereas in games like Rogue Legacy, where you upgrade your character as well as your hub, RK has gone the route of generic upgrades to the character via one of the most minimalistic skill trees available. Kudos for the vision but the execution ultimately highlights the hollowness of this experience. There are plenty of games that sacrifice story for the sake of gameplay let’s see how that pans out.
Visually, RK is rough. Make no mistake about it, this one is going to wear on your eyes after an extended session of traversing the dimly lit, bland environments searching for the recycled enemies you need to kill to achieve the aforementioned 70% enemy clearance in order to port back to town. While trying to capture the also popular retro-inspired pixel style, RK comes off as a half-hearted attempt at capitalizing on all the industry buzzwords (perhaps they will surprise us with their very own Battle Royale mode with an update). The character models are limited, so expect to see the same handful as you traverse each of the levels 10 missions. Boss battles, unfortunately, disappoint as well. Gone are the screen eating behemoths found in modern as well classics, instead replaced with rather generic characters that depending on your level are OP or way too weak. The world you inhabit evokes no emotion as everything is a muddy mess to the point that I was unable to see a gap I need to progress as it blended into the static background. The town itself is devoid of life. While it is inhabited by vendors and priests the entire area is static. The vendors, oh the vendors. Once you visit the first time you will see an assortment of swords, axes even swords and shield combos along with crossbows… and that’s it. Everything you see for sale from the outset is what is available to you as you progress through the game. Unfortunately, this accompanied by the same setup when you visit the other vendor who deals in protective jewellery just detracts from any immersion you may have built up. The limited animations give the game a distinctively stiff feel which can make combat more awkward than it needs to be.
Gameplay-wise, RK is a mixed bag. Traversal is adequate at best. Everything functions as intended but offers nothing new or exciting to entice potential gamers in. Jumping (Single and double) is handled with the ‘A’ button while ‘B’ handles the dodge roll. If you have a shield ‘X’ will offer some respite as you hack away with ‘Y’ or fire crossbow bolts/magic with ‘L’. The disconnect here is in just how stiff everything feels. Animations are from fluid and often leave you vulnerable to attack when you get stuck in an attack animation and phase through your foe moving forward leaving your 6 o’clock undefended. Digging deeper, however, there is some fun to be had. Yes, the game is clunky, but collecting the hidden artefacts in each stage encourages exploration as these can be traded in for random items in town. These items can be generic garbage that is utterly useless or you can luck out and score items unavailable for purchase with seriously killer stat boosts to health, damage or best case scenario both. Couple this with a timer that runs on each stage that if beaten gives the player a second treasure chest to open at the end of the stage and you start to see the slash and loot mechanic they were aiming for start to take shape.
Sonically, you better off playing this one while listening to a show or your own soundtrack. The moment I entered the first rift, I was struck by the sweet-sounding new wave synth music brooding in the background only to find my heart would ultimately be broken. The handful of tracks devolve into a watered-down version of something you would expect to find on kids’ computers after he played around with his drum machine for a few weeks after a great Christmas break. Sadly, the sound effects do nothing to help elevate this either. Your standard hack and slash sounds would have been preferable here as we are instead treated to sounds that are distorted and ultimately do nothing to enhance the experience.
Rift Keeper, is by no means a horrible game. Many have jumped in to ride the train of success created by a hot gaming fad, look no further than Cliff Bleszinski’s Radical Heights debacle. Unfortunately, nothing was added to the formula and in many instances, things were removed. RK stands as a strong example of imitation for profit which is something becoming all too familiar with the eShop. Yes, there is some fun to be had but definitely not at the asking price now.
TBG Score: 4/10
Platform: Steam, Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 17/12/2019
No. of Players: 1
Category: RPG, Action, Platformer
Publisher: Sometimes You
Download link: eShop