Roguelikes have exploded as a genre lately, largely due to the number of indie productions out there exploring interesting ways to take an absolutely classic title and bolt new mechanics to it. Games like FTL, Rogue Legacy and Paranautical Activity instantly come to mind, taking randomised areas, crazy power-ups and eternal death as a basis and building them into something new and fresh.
Risk of Rain takes the idea of an impossible Roguelike to new heights. The hook of this 2D action platformer is rather simple: it literally gets harder with each passing second. Immediately the player needs to make a conscious decision: do you grind out the game in the first few minutes when the enemies are few and far between, farming gold and unlocking passive abilities that will help you when you reach the ten minute mark and all hell breaks loose? Or perhaps you want to rush through as many stages as possible before the difficulty curve rises. Risk of Rain is all about risk and reward, and while it doesn't necessarily break genre conventions, it manages to provide a compelling twist on basic mechanics.
Players are given access to a number of characters, each with four unique abilities that will aid them in combat. Each of said abilities has a cool-down timer after use, so learning which character fits your play style, and how they fit in with the rest of your team is imperative for survival. In the beginning you only have access to the assault trooper, but after multiple runs you will slowly unlock a cast of devastating characters that will help you see the game through until the end.
Once you select a character it's game on. You are dropped on a hostile world, filled with enemies. Each enemy killed will net you some gold, which can be spent unlocking chests found in the level, or taking a gamble and spending some at a divine statue. Sometimes this will yield you amazing items, other times it will take your money and laugh at your tears as you received nothing at all. Each time you use one of the statues the cost goes up also, which often had me throwing money away at it three times before I realised I was broke.
There are tons of items throughout Risk of Rain that will give you the upper edge, most of them offering passive buffs against your foes. There are a select number of consumable items you will find along the way that can be used to get yourself out of a tight jam, and there are also some helpful assault and healing drones that you can spend money repairing so they will follow you around and help against the onslaught of enemies. Just like any Roguelike, learning how to use these items in unison is key to survival, and after a dozen or so runs, you will begin to understand how it all fits together.
Each level essentially has the same goal: find and activate the teleporter which will call in a randomised boss fight. The bosses are tough....really bloody tough, and they will definitely give you a run for your money. To make matters worse, the timer is still creeping up towards a harder difficulty, and regular enemies are still spawning into the world, which makes is a cluster of pain and misery. Once the boss has been defeated the enemies stop spawning, you are left to clear the last of them, and then you can teleport to the next level. Before you leave however, you better search for any chests you may have missed, because each time you teleport you will lose your gold.
Risk of Rain keeps you on the edge of your seat the entire time, simply because that ominous timer is always ticking in the upper right corner. Slowly but surely you see the difficulty status rise from easy to no chance in hell and the sweat starts forming on your brow. You want to make sure you survive the game, but you also need to do it as quickly as possible. It's an impossible task, one that is truly captivating and kept us coming back for more and more.
While Risk of Rain supports solo gamers, the true core of the game lies with the four-player co-op. When you're tackling the beasts of other worlds with three of your best friends, each playing a different character and you are all working in unison, the game really shines as something special. If you're not likely to play the game with friends, I'd almost recommend skipping it all together; that is how integral the multiplayer truly is.
Risk of Rain manages to pull off the pixel look with style and flair. The characters are enjoyable, the enemies are ghastly, and those tunes are fantastic. If you can swing a few dollars, definitely pickup the soundtrack from the website, it's right up there with Fez and Monaco in terms of great indie game albums.
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