We receive a lot of review requests at The Indie Mine. While I would love to be able to support every indie dev out there with coverage of their game, that’s simply not possible. This also means that occasionally a gem or two will slip through the cracks. Thankfully, every so often one of them turns up again. In the case of Rise of the Ravager, I finally had a chance to play it at a recent indie expo after not being able to squeeze it into my schedule when the game launched earlier this year. How’d it turn out? It’s an impressive blend of many classic game design conventions within one addictive package. To get a sense of what Rise of the Ravager is like, imagine if Missile Command, Ikaruga, and Zuma had a digital baby.
An ancient god is awakening in the cosmos and raining its minions down from the skies. It’s up to the player to use a cannon and sharp reflexes to destroy the underlings before they can reach the planet’s surface. The twist is that combat is based on a color-matching system. Red enemies can only be destroyed by red cannonfire, blue by blue, and so on. The game was originally designed, in part, for the Xbox 360, so naturally enemies can appear in each of the four face-button colors. Swapping between the artillery is instantaneous and accomplished by pressing one of those buttons or the keyboard should the player opt for that on the PC version. Thankfully the PC version also offers gamepad support.
Not that the challenge ever lets up, but the player is given a helping hand with an upgrade system. Boosts to attributes like firing speed or new abilities like a screen-clearing bomb can be slotted using skill points earned during each stage. Simply surviving will net a few points, but extras are rewarded for taking no damage or destroying the occasional spy machine. After each round, points can be unslotted to be placed elsewhere. This certainly helped when I found out I went for the big boosts too early, or when I needed to refocus on damage for a boss level. Not all of the abilities are exactly clear on how they function or why they should continue to have extra points dropped into them, so the ability to undo mistakes is almost a necessary feature. It also brings just the slightest bit of an RPG element to the table and can help diversify the gameplay depending on the player’s choices.
If there’s an area where the game especially shines, it’s that the developers have done a fine job of pacing the difficulty. Enemies of increasing varieties of color are slowly introduced over the first half a dozen stages, giving the player a chance to mentally adjust to the increasing complexity. Eventually the opposition also brings new tricks like firing their own projectiles or releasing smaller minions, all of which also have to be destroyed. RotR nails that feeling of “just barely made it” that is the hallmark of a good shoot-em-up. Rarely did I ever feel overpowered because of the upgrades, and even though I failed a handful of times, I never felt cheated. That was even the case when playing through the game plus mode which is unlocked by beating the campaign.
The thematic presentation of the game takes a lot of its inspiration from ancient Central American influences. The colorful sprites and backdrops reminded me a lot of Zuma, another game that relies heavily on a quick-paced color matching system. The developers have also incorporated a remarkably deep mythology to the world of RotR. Between each stage, the history of the titular Ravager is revealed through brief, almost scripture-like story fragments. Although the core of the game is simple and arcade-like, it feels like a more fleshed-out game by placing it in within this framework.
For those who don’t want to play alone, Rise of the Ravager does include a multiplayer component. Up to three buddies can join in on the campaign at the start of any stage, and having them there adds a lot of fun and strategy to the experience. Boss fights tend to be trials that involve alternating between going on the offensive and the defensive, but having one or more friends means that responsibilities can be divvied up. It’s not all about being a good teammate. Even though it’s a cooperative experience, bragging rights are at stake because the game totals each individual player’s score on every stage. The winner gets to determine how to spend the hard-earned upgrade points. Although the Xbox version is a perfect fit for a living room gaming session with friends, it would’ve been nice if the PC version included an online multiplayer component rather than just the single-screen view.
Rise of the Ravager is simple done right. The developers have taken the best elements of shmups and retro arcade titles and created a polished game of their own. While an extra mode or some unlockables would help to keep players coming back, there’s enough there in the game plus campaign and multiplayer to keep gamers coming back for at least a little while.
This game was reviewed using a PC copy provided by the developer for that purpose. Version 1.0.2 was used in this review. Rise of the Ravager is available on PC, Linux, and Xbox, and information on all versions can be found on the game’s official website.
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