I’ve got a lot of love for bullet hell hybrids. I’ve always been addicted to the twitchy reactions needed to dodge waves of bullets in classic shoot ’em up games, and mixing that with a different genre leads to amazing experiences, and it’s a big part of why I fell in love with games like Nier and Furi. Rabi-Ribi has been on my wishlist for a while by virtue of it being a platformer/bullet-hell mashup, so I was definitely excited to be able to check out the PlayStation 4 port.
Rabi-Ribi is about a bunny who is mysteriously transformed into a human girl and goes on an adventure through unfamiliar lands to find her owner. Along the way, she encounters generic anime character archetypes and cookie cutter companions with barely a wink of originality in their personalities. The story of Rabi-Ribi is by far its weakest link. The dialogue is bland and uninspired, and even the funnier parts of the story feel like they’ve been done a million times before. Thanks to helpful quest markers, you can skip story scenes if you so choose and never be lost on what you’re meant to be doing next.
The narrative shortcomings of Rabi-Ribi are made up for in spades by the gameplay. You’ll be channeling your inner Alucard and navigating a dozen different segmented area maps, dealing with a healthy balance of platforming, environment puzzles, and enemy encounters as you come across new abilities, upgrades, and bosses.
One of the best things about Rabi-Ribi is how customize-able the experience is. There’s a wealth of difficulty options available to accommodate players of any skill level, and on top of that there are two modes of progression available to select. Standard mode lets you go through the game without having to deal with too much backtracking and makes boss encounters beatable with any weapon loadout, but alternative mode makes the game much more strict, so you’ll have to track down specific abilities for each boss encounter if you want to stand a chance of beating them.
I went with the standard difficulty and navigation options, but even with those, Rabi-Ribi was never really a cakewalk. The basic enemy encounters may not seem too intimidating, but if you’re not careful you’ll accumulate more damage than you’d think. Your character has a melee weapon with a variety of different attack types and you’ll need to utilize each one to be effective in combat. Some enemies are only really hit with an uppercut attack, while others may need to be hit with a falling hammer strike.
The real challenge, however, comes from the boss battles. This is where the bullet hell really begins. Boss fights pit you against humanoid characters that usually sport a basic melee moveset and the ranged attacks that almost always result in a huge amount of projectiles being launched at you. You’ll need lightning reflexes if you want to dodge every bullet and still take advantage of openings to deal damage. Early boss fights are a bit of a warmup, but in just a couple of hours, Rabi-Ribi takes off the training wheels and forces you to make each of your health points count if you want to emerge victorious.
If you find yourself a bit underprepared to tackle a boss, there are a lot of avenues you can take to customize your loadout and beef yourself up. You can collect a huge variety of new attack items in the world, as well as Paper Mario style badges that give you new abilities and bonuses. You can then use your new attacks on enemies to level them up and increase damage or speed, while visiting the item shop in town can let you upgrade your badges or boost any of your stats. As you get further into the game, how you’ve chosen to develop you’re particular collection of abilities and badge can lead to you having an almost totally different playstyle to another player. I loved the freedom of customisation and the sheer quantity of options at your disposal.
Now, Rabi-Ribi might be a hard sell for some due to the big-eyed anime girl aesthetic it sports. I don’t mind anime stylings in my video games, but the visuals of Rabi-Ribi were definitely a little off-putting to me too. Character art is gorgeous and vibrant, but every character in the game is either trouser-less, topless, or sporting magically skin-tight tops. Your player character is one of the most egregious, rocking a straight up sexy bunny costume. There’s not too much fanservice where characters are tripping onto each other or getting their clothes ripped off, though. The entire game is honestly pretty tame, but the scantily clad young-looking cast contrast with the innocence of the game in a weird way.
The in-game visuals are less offensive, but not much more appealing. The game utilizes pixel art for all the characters and enemies, but humanoid characters are drawn in a style that lacks any strong visual identity, and most character sprites end up looking like colour-swapped version of each other. The environments also lack any impactful design, ranging from generic forests to caves and factories, none of which really stood out for me.
The weirdest visual faux-pas to me, though, is the way enemy projectiles are rendered. A majority of the bullets bosses shoot at you aren’t drawn sprites, but glowing particles. A lot of the time that these particles are used, it creates a weird visual dissonance and makes it a bit harder to judge safe spaces to land in to dodge bullets. These artistic misfires are wrapped together by a pretty lackluster soundtrack, consisting of mostly generic soundscapes and techno beats. While boss music is energetic and high-tempo, it’s hardly memorable.
Rabi-Ribi is a fun game and I had a great time exploring the levels, collecting abilities, and developing my character. I had an even greater time putting my thumbs to the test with the addictive and unforgiving boss battles. Unfortunately, for a game to be truly great, the full package needs to shine, and that is not the case with Rabi-Ribi. While gameplay and is engaging and well-designed, the visuals, story, and audio are all lacking, and no amount of bullets can ever make me turn my head to those flaws.
Version tested: PlayStation 4