by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
My First Hack-n-Slash
Riverbond is a great ďMy First Hack-n-SlashĒ game. While it lacks most of the modern trappings genre veterans have come to expect, it succeeds in crafting an experience full of simple charm. While youíll probably be defeated a few times as you play, Riverbond is a relaxing experience best played one mission at a time, perhaps sprinkled in between sessions of something more demanding. While itís a bit too simple for me to be likely to return to after having spent my time with it for this review, I canít much fault it when itís so honest and largely successful with what itís trying to be.
When you first hop into Riverbond, youíll be greeted with a very Mega Man-esque grid showing nine settings to choose from. Without knowing what to expect I hopped into the one in the upper left corner, but know that each of the options are self-contained and can be played in any order. Each one is made up of a number of mini-missions ranging from 5-15 minutes or so, and each set takes about 45 minutes from start to end boss. While each level set is creative, donít expect any tasks more complicated than ďdefeat everyone,Ē ďfind the key (by defeating everyone),Ē or ďtalk to [insert person here] (after defeating everyone).Ē Whichever one you choose first (and Restwater Valley in the top left is a good, easy choice to jump in with), youíll immediately notice that the game is gorgeous. At first glance, Riverbond looks like someone modded Minecraft to be shown from a more top-down third-person perspective. Itís true that the characters and environments are built with blocky voxel chunks, but everything just looks fantastic. Each of the nine mission sets is hugely different but an equal treat for the eyes, from bright grassy countrysides, to dingy castles, to snowy tundras and beyond. The enemy designs are an equal treat. Baddies come in all shapes and sizes, each with a distinct personality and detail, and there are so many! Each mission set has its own assortment of enemies befitting the environment in which they reside.
As you fight your way through each of the nine mission sets, youíll collect a bunch of loot that you can use on your journey- weapons and avatar skins. Disappointingly for a game with so much loot in a genre often defined by progression via said loot, most of it doesnít matter at all. There are only two weapon types, ranged and melee, and none of the weapons in either category vary by much more than tipping slightly one way or the other one the speed/damage scale. More perplexingly, while you get to permanently unlock the character skins (which include a number of guest characters from other games like Bastion and Shovel Knight), the weapons re-set after each boss. Given that none of them are overpowered or particularly different, Iím not sure why they donít stay unlocked and available.
Befitting of its bright, cartoony visuals, Riverbond is a simple game to master. Your options for movement and combat are simple, you can move, jump, roll/dodge, do a basic attack, do a charged melee attack, and do a weak AOE special. Everything controls well, but after a single mission, I found myself growing pretty bored and wishing a few more strategic options would open up. All you have to do in just about every level, including boss fights, is kite the enemies in a circle while you pop at them with a ranged weapon. The ranged weapons are balanced in that they reload fairly slowly, but the reload process continues while another weapon is selected, meaning if you have to you can bounce back and forth without pause. Once I started doing this I never found a good reason to use melee weapons again save for clearing environmental objects more quickly. Those looking for combat thatís easy to grasp will appreciate how simply everything works, but those looking for more engagement will likely be left wanting.
For better and worse, Riverbond is the Saturday morning cartoon of hack-n-slash games. Itís colorful, itís easy to digest, and there really isnít any continuity from one ďepisodeĒ to the next. That isnít necessarily an insult- while I donít think thereís much reason for more seasoned players to hop in, itís the perfect little title for kids or those looking to unwind with something relatively stress-free. I think a few more weapon and ability options would have gone a long way towards giving Riverbond a bit more longevity and wide appeal, but whatís there is still a beautiful little nugget of joy that does what it attempts well.
Beautiful visual design, tight controls, easy to grasp for children or those looking for a more low-key experience.
Weapon loot is temporary, gameplay lacks depth.