R-Type was a game seemingly so effortless in its excellence that it made the idea of developing a side-scrolling shoot ’em up appear to be an easy prospect. The decades worth of pale imitators since have proven that it’s anything but. Pinpoint controls, exceptional visual feedback and the kind of collision detection that makes grown men weep are not exactly easy to emulate. This is what makes Rigid Force Redux such an accomplish; it meets the bar that R-Type set all those years ago and, in some aspects, even exceeds them.
Rigid Force Redux has been around in one form or another since 2018, when it was originally released as Rigid Force Alpha on PC. In 2020 the game was ported to Nintendo Switch and Xbox One and gained its ‘Redux’ suffix, as many PC to console ports tend to do. We’ve had to wait a little while for the good ship Rigid Force Alpha to finally touch down on to PS4 but that wait has been worth it, as many of the technical issues that dogged the initial release of the other console versions are now wonderfully absent.
Flying horizontally from left to right, Rigid Force Redux is one of the most bombastic light displays my shmup loving eyeballs have ever witnessed. This is a gorgeous game filled with chunky and charming 2.5D visuals, almighty explosions, more bullets than in all of America and, to top it off, silky smooth 60fps action throughout. com8com1 has crafted a love letter to the side-scrolling shooter, and I felt warm and safe in their hands throughout.
What really makes Rigid Force such an accomplishment is its ability to finely balance accessibility with challenge. All too often new players can bounce right off the nasty difficulty spikes of a shmup, never to return to the genre again. Thanks to a well structured and informative tutorial as well an easy mode that’s – surprisingly – fairly easy, Rigid Force welcomes in new players with an open hand, whilst also taking great delight in punching experienced players repeatedly in the face with the closed fist of its ultra-mean Hard mode.
Weapon power ups are a destructive delight; as you fly through space or across the surface of a number of elemental themed planets, defeated enemies release a glorious cavalcade of picks ups for you to collect. Multiple turrets can be gathered to affix to your craft and, with just a few minutes of play, your unassuming shuttle will be coating the screen in a thick layer of laser beams, rockets and bombs. In a neat touch, turrets can be rotated around your craft with a touch of a button. This allows the player to focus their fire on a fixed point, opt to spread it over a wider surface area or even take out targets behind them. It adds a neat layer of strategy to all the pyrotechnics, especially when you consider that these turrets can absorb enemy fire. Sacrificing a favoured turret can be a necessary tactic to reach the end of a particularly tough level.
In another generous contribution to the player’s attempts of continued living, the Alpha has a number of lives, represented by a health bar, and so can absorb some damage – the amount is dependant on the difficulty level, of course. I thoroughly appreciated the attempt of the developer to ease my shmup rage, but this aspect proves to be one of the game’s few mis-steps. The rules on what constitutes the loss of health are irritatingly vague. One orange bullet will wipe out one chunk of health, whilst a stream of orange bullets will still, confusingly, remove only one lump of health too. Terrain can also be vague in the damage it causes. Some environmental hazards will result in the loss of health, whilst others in the complete destruction of the ship. Admittedly this is only an issue in Easy or Normal difficulties, on Hard mode contact with anything just results in a severe case of premature death.
Each mode does have continues, though, to be honest, their inclusion is entirely irrelevant. You might think it would be handy to have another crack at one of the game’s impressively varied bosses, but you’d be mistaken. When you restart you are stripped of every power-up you’d gathered to that point, making boss battles impossible – well, certainly far exceeding my abilities anyway. Easy mode does provide you with a brief opportunity to gather your discarded power-ups, but doing so proves overly fussy. Your flashing ship may well be temporarily invulnerable, but it also proves temporarily incapable of collecting the power-ups properly. I’m assuming this is a feature, rather than a bug, but it is one that would benefit from an explanation in the otherwise exemplary tutorial. Either way, you shouldn’t bother with continues and a full restart of the level will be necessary to gather the required firepower to fell a boss.
These irritations can soon be forgiven when you’re back in the thick of it, wiping out hordes of enemy space craft with the touch of a button whilst perilously dodging their return fire. Success or failure on a knife’s edge, dictated by a momentary hesitation when unthinking reaction action should have been the response. It’s a heart thumping experience, one that is rendered all the more intense by a terrific synthwave soundtrack, the tempo of which seems to perfectly enhance the on screen action.
And what action it is. One standout sequence that sees you having to flee a future boss is tense and surprisingly innovative. Having the game switch from a horizontal to a vertical shooter during this escape is a genius touch, one that helps keep the player guessing about the obstacles and challenges they’ll encounter until the very end.
It’s just a shame that the end comes far too quickly. With only six levels to be had, Rigid Force Redux can be polished off in an hour or two. Sure, there’s an arcade mode, league tables and a boss rush for those who fancy it, but there’s no denying the fact that you’ll have seen everything the game has to offer in an afternoon. Rigid Force Redux is a blast whilst it lasts, you’ll just have to relish every second of its blasting brilliance whilst you can.