It’s dangerous to go alone. Take this. I laugh to myself as I pull yet another unorthodox weapon from a treasure chest. This time it’s a giant pencil. Turns out, this is exactly what I need. After all, it’s hard out here as an anthropomorphic donut near surrounded by a horde of skeletons.
Welcome to Riverbond.
Introduced with a healthy dose of whimsy and an art style that really pops, developer Cococucumber’s latest makes a fantastic first impression. From the eccentric, pun-happy, characters, to the smooth controls and early acts of wanton destruction, it’s rewarding from minute one and just makes you want to play it.
A top down Diablo-lite, Riverbond’s simplicity is one of its most attractive features. Prioritising fun over difficulty for the most part, the game’s one-button combat and fluid movement will have you feeling like a hero in no time. There are no stats to worry about, no load outs to concern yourself with. Just jump in, pick that Avocado character and hack away at enemies with that giant hand if you want to.
Platforming stood out as the only true frustration, with clunky, imprecise, jump mechanics halting me in my tracks a number of times in the later levels. Being able to target enemies, especially with ranged weapons, would also remove the irritation that came with trying to meticulously line up an enemy, only for you to miss them by a hair’s breadth.
Those minor concerns aside, just jump in, pick that Avocado character and hack away at enemies using that giant hand with glee.
Smaller enemies can be dispatched in just a few hits, exploding into a delightful cloud of voxels as they do so, whilst larger ones require a little more skill and attention. Still, you’ll rarely feel overwhelmed and tedium could quickly set in for solo adventurers. However, drop in-drop out co-op combined with the game’s direct nature alleviates that. Playing with friends feels like the best way to experience Riverbond, with the additional fun and chaos helping to gloss over some of the game’s more primitive elements.
The same goes for Riverbond’s structure, with each of the eight different worlds playing out in the same way: A series of simple quests, enemies to defeat and a boss fight at the end. Despite a vague overarching narrative surrounding the disappearance of the Eldra Spirits, each world feels fairly self contained. And although there is a clear progression, both in terms of story and difficulty, the worlds can be tackled (and revisited) in whatever order you like.
Although relatively small in scale, each world feels lovingly crafted and distinct. Whether there’s waterfalls cascading down cliff faces, tightly packed villages or lava-filled arenas, every new world has a sense of place. Exploration is encouraged too, with secrets, enemies and unique characters in every nook and cranny. The way each world is put together, combined with a satisfying but simple, loot-based, reward system really promotes play and inspired me to explore each environment, knowing that a new weapon, character skin, secret room, or more wacky dialogue could be found around each corner.
Outside of the combat and exploration cycle are some light puzzle-solving elements, but they’re few and far between. As straightforward as opening up bridges or hacking away at the environment to pick up coins and collectables is, I’d have liked to have seen more of this implemented throughout. Although, at around twenty five to thirty minutes in length, the pace of each level was spot on. Well, until the end.
In Riverbond’s final chapters, the difficulty takes an unexpected spike. A high volume of enemies combined with the occasionally inexact controls made for a somewhat deflating ending. A steady increase difficulty would have been no problem, but such a steep incline felt cheap and left a sour taste at the end of what had been an otherwise joyful, pain free, romp.
Riverbond is like a snapshot of classic videogames. Each level feels like a condensed burst of upgraded nostalgia, with the quirky charm of an early Zelda that you can run through in under half an hour. It’s voxel-based visuals were a treat — and gave me huge 3D Dot Game Heroes vibes — and gameplay felt rewarding for the majority of the time.
The sheer amount of collectables, variety of weapons and different character skins attempt to encourage replayability. However, with the majority of that being cosmetic it’s not really enough. The fact that there’s no leaderboards to go alongside the high score system is a massive missed opportunity too. That being said, running through each world as The Kid from Bastion (yes, he’s a skin!) and hitting people with a book or shooting them with a gun that fires bees does sound like fun.
Fun is the core of Riverbond. It’s what it does best. This is not a deep game, it’s not a difficult game, and it’s far from a complex game. However, the sheer amusement and childlike joy that it exudes is undeniable.
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