The Name’s The Game
The names of most entertainment genres are relatively generic…as they should be, since they’re meant to be general classifications of more specific works. Looking at games specifically, we get the vastly generic ones like “Action,” “RPG,” and “Horror.” These are headers for all kinds of games, and they can get a bit more specific within subgenres, like “Survival Horror” or “JRPG.” Even then, though, these names are relatively generic descriptions of the games contained therein.
Sometimes, though, an genre name is much more specific. In gaming, there are a couple so specific that they take their genre name from the game that is seen as starting the genre. One major one is “Roguelike,” taking its name from the 1980 PC game Rogue. Another, and the one we’re focusing on today, is the “Metroidvania” genre.
The name “Metroidvania” comes from two obvious series names: Metroid and Castlevania. The genre encapsulates games similar to its namesakes; games that involve sprawling maps, heavy exploration, and path-blocking obstacles that must be overcome by items or skills found later within a game. While it likely started as a fan name for this game style, the term “Metroidvania” has all but been officially adopted as a true gaming genre.
Games of this genre are exceedingly popular, with many being released each year, and quite a number going on to earn critical acclaim. The genre is also popular amongst indie developers, with two games from last year, Ori and the Blind Forest and Axiom Verge, earning great praise from critics and gamers alike.
The game we are looking at today is, like the aforementioned titles, an indie Metroidvania game. This one, though, takes things in a different direction by combining it with another popular indie genre: Bullet Hell.
Rabi-Ribi was developed by CreSpirit and published in the West by Sekai Project. The game was released on January 28th, 2016 for Steam.
Try to Follow This…
Rabi-Ribi focuses on Erina, a rabbit who lives with her “master” in Rabi-Rabi Town. One day, however, she awakens to find herself alone in the middle of a field…and she’s not a rabbit anymore, but a human, albeit with rabbit ears and a tail. Confused as to what’s going on, she attempts to return to her master, only to find herself being pursued by the UPRPRC, a gang of girls wearing bunny ears who are obsessed with rabbits and are focused on catching Erina.
While escaping from the bunny-ear gang, Erina meets up with a fairy named Ribbon, who is seeking help to release her friends from captivity. They decide to team up and help each other out, along the way trying to figure out the mysteries behind Erina’s transformation, a sky-borne phenomenon driving everyone rabbit crazy, and a stone monument that links to a strange new world.
The story is, to put it simply, ridiculous and utter nonsense. Must of the game focuses on finding characters and bringing them to Rabi-Rabi Town. There are a crazy number of characters introduced throughout the story, and the vast majority of them receive little characterization beyond singular quirks.
The main characters fair a bit better, at least, and the portions that focus on just them and the game’s mysteries present a bit more intrigue. The parts involving the aforementioned stone monument mystery acutally provide interesting plot points, and it was reaching these parts that helped hold my attention through the rest of the game’s rather banal dialogue.
Hop, Skip, and a Jump
While the game is severely lacking in story, Rabi-Ribi makes up for it many times over in the gameplay department. As I mentioned, this game is a Metroidvania-style game, involving extensive exploration to expand your attack and traversal skill repertoire. Erina’s main weapon is a hammer, and every attack with it consumes an SP bar which replenishes once you cease attacking. Every new hammer skill learned uses certain amounts of SP, and while the amount increases as the game continues, learning to use your SP stock effectively is a major part of combat.
Once Erina meets Ribbon early in the game, she also gains access to a ranged energy-shot attack. Use of this also has its own energy bar, although this one doesn’t deplete as fast. Most of the skill in using Ribbon’s attacks comes from the different kinds of shots she can learn (normal straight-forward shots, spread-style attacks, etc) and knowing when to use each one where.
The game practically demands mastery of its battle systems, as Rabi-Ribi is a game that really focuses on its boss battles. There are over forty of them spread throughout the world, and they can be very punishing, even early in the game. It’s during the boss battles that the Bullet Hell aspect of the game comes into play, as the bosses mostly use bullet barrages as their main attacks. Most every boss has a surprisingly large attack repertoire, and there is almost never a pattern as to when they’ll use which attacks, so learning to read your enemies is key.
There are a couple of issues that I had with the Bullet Hell portions. The character sprites in Rabi-Ribi are rather large, and battles tend to take place in singular small rooms, which can make the intense bullet patterns much more difficult to dodge than in a traditional Bullet Hell game. As this game is a platformer at heart, you are also stuck dodging through bullet patterns on the ground, rather than being able to fly anywhere on the screen like other games of the genre. Quite a number of patterns don’t quite seem to compensate for this; many of the more involved attacks feel like they really need the control scheme of a full Bullet Hell game to maneuver through effectively.
Lastly, in my entire playthough, I was never able to figure out where exactly the actual hitbox on Erina is. This made many of the later bosses’ intricate attack patterns more of a game of luck sometimes than anything else.
Luckily, despite some issues in translating Bullet Hell to platformer, the control of Rabi-Ribi is very tight and responsive. Making the small detailed movement to weave through bullet patterns is easy, and pulling off crazy attack combos with Erina’s entire repertoire is fairly simple. This game does demand the use of a controller, though – the keyboard controls can be very awkward.
Just Too Cute
As is true in so many indie games, Rabi-Ribi is presented with retro-style graphics. In this case, the game appears to be going for a Super Nintendo/16-bit style presentation, and it works well for this kind of game. As I mentioned, the sprites are rather large and expressive, although they are not particularly detailed. The animation, though, is very fluid.
Much of the same can be said about the environments as well. While they aren’t particularly detailed, what is presented is presented well. The number of different environments you will traverse is nicely varied, and each environment sticks around just long enough to not get repetitive.
The character portraits during dialogue, along with the occasional CG image during major plot points, are very well-designed. Some of the designs can be a bit provocative (Hell, the main character is basically wearing a tight one-piece swimsuit, and the other just has straps of fabric over her breasts), especially since every character is female, so take that as you will.
Music To Your (Rabbit) Ears
The retro-style lean of the game is also somewhat present in the soundtrack, with a lot of synths and some occasional chiptune influence. Other tracks use more traditional instruments and stylings, as well. Most of the background music reflects the feeling of the game quite well: bouncy, poppy, and cute. The sound quality is excellent and the tracks really compliment the game…although there aren’t too many that stand out.
The few that do, though, definitely have one thing in common: the composer. The soundtrack for Rabi-Ribi had a number of contributing composers. The real standout tracks, in my opinion, are the late-game ones done by the composer Triodust. In particular, the final track for the final boss battle is an excellent piece combining a synth backbone with a somewhat ethereal piano melody and driving strings.
Don’t Judge a Book…
Overall, Rabi-Ribi is one of the first real surprises of the year for me. I was originally extremely off-put by the cutesy presentation, and didn’t go in with particularly high hopes. While the story was unfortunately disappointing, everything else about the game really stood out and created an excellent experience.
The gameplay is tight, responsive, and just plain fun, despite some issues in translating the Bullet Hell segments to a 2D platformer. The graphical design is definitely above average, and when the soundtrack hits good, it hits hard.
This is a game I would absolutely recommend to any gamer looking for a great platformer and a decent challenge. Look past the overly-saccharine exterior, and you have an excellent game that marks a strong start for indie releases in 2016.
~ Final Score: 9/10 ~
Review copy provided by Sekai Project for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.