Red Stewart reviews Rigid Force Alpha for PC…
What can I say about the shoot-em up (or schmup) genre that hasn’t been said before? It’s a fairly-simple type of game to create: throw a bunch of enemies on-screen and give the player unlimited ammo to mow them all down. Because of massive influence from Space Invader and Galaga, these titles tend to feature spacecraft, though multiple kinds of aerial vehicles have been used.
Rigid Force Alpha, which was developed and published by com8com1, is another entry in the genre. It follows the examples set by Gradius and U.N. Squadron by being a horizontal side-scroller. The question is does it live up to the standards set by those two classics, or does it fall into the same forgettable bin as Asteroid Bounty Hunter? The short answer is it has its ups and downs; for every good thing, I felt there was a counterpoint to it. But read on if you want the long answer.
Unlike most schmups, Rigid Force Alpha actually incorporates a story alongside its campaign; you’re not just going through levels, you’re progressing through a sci-fi narrative, which I thought was nice and reminded me a bit of the Star Fox series. Sadly, that tale isn’t anything unique: you play as the captain of a ship called the titular Rigid Force Alpha, which is sent to investigate a distress signal from a sketchy research station. There, you learn that mutated organisms have taken over the place and are expanding, forcing you to go to to multiple areas to eradicate them all.
It’s enjoyable enough, but if that synopsis sounds oddly familiar, you would be right: this is basically the same premise as Metroid Prime. Now of course, Metroid Prime didn’t invent that story: in fact it, for all intents and purposes, stole it from Alien. But I bring up that game because there is another similarity between the two titles, and that is the art style. Despite occupying two different eras of gaming, Rigid Force Alpha looks like it came out of the GameCube age, with it taking particular influence from Nintendo’s Metroid Prime trilogy. What I mean is everything, from the environments to the NPC models, looks well-rounded and rendered, but the low polygon-count and lack of high-definition definitely shows. Adding to this is a creepy-looking female AI partner that communicates with you, much like your pals did in Star Fox. Her messages are fine, but man was she eerie to look at it, especially since the lip-syncing is completely off.
Not only that, but Rigid Force Alpha seems to have an identity crisis that ties into the other facets of game design: its graphics and story, as stated above, come from Metroid Prime, the bosses look like something out of the Contra series, and the music (by Lauri Turjansalo and Michael Chait) sounds heavily inspired by the F-Zero soundtrack. Now, the sound design is the one part where Rigid Force Alpha is more individualistic, but the weapons/enemies will make the same noises no matter how many times you fire/destroy them respectively, limiting this aspect.
The end result is mixed for me. Look, we all love throwbacks to retro classics, especially ones that combine multiple genres like Hollow Knight, Cuphead, and Yoku’s Pinball Express. But there was something about those games that made them work the way they did- the team successfully balanced the chemistry out. Rigid Force Alpha is a good game, but one that lacks polish beyond just the visuals.
However, I understand that this is more-or-less entirely subjective, so let’s not move onto the gameplay. Like other schmups, Rigid Force Alpha is broken down into two mechanics: the upgrade system and the difficulty.
Regarding the former, I’ve talked a lot in the past about how every game genre has had its conventions mapped out over the years: real innovation these days comes from whatever gimmicks the developers can conceive, and I don’t use gimmicks as an insult- it’s just easier to say one word than a phrase like “fresh coat of paint.” Unfortunately, Rigid Force Alpha doesn’t expand upon anything we’ve seen in prior horizontal STGs. You only have three sets of upgrades- your main firing weapon, a homing missile system, and the power of your blast. These are determined through the collection of shards, which are obtained in-game through breaking capsules that randomly fly on-screen. There was an opportunity here to create some really interesting combinations, but in the end there’s not much diversity. You only have three lasers- a straight blue one, a reddish diagonal one, and a ricocheting green one. Missile varieties only determine the direction they shoot from, and the power boosts are capped at I believe four.
Killing enemies drops energy balls, much like the Chakra orbs from Naruto: Uzumaki Chronicles. Absorbing these builds up your energy meter, which you can use to either discharge a powerful blast, or create a temporary shield that protects you from enemy fire. Personally, I would’ve preferred to have an auto-force field that is built up by obtaining shards to eliminate the micromanaging, but it is a small quibble and I imagine not many people will employ the shield much anyway.
Looking at it all, there isn’t much going for it. Like I stated at the beginning of the review, though, schmups are somewhat-simple games from a design standpoint (simple as in an easier concept to create, not easy to create in general), and I figure fans of the genre will find a lot to love in Rigid Force Alpha, especially since it doesn’t try to over-complicate things with extensive customization.
No, my real problem with the title comes from one feature alone, and that is in the latter difficulty category: this is a game that manages to be hard without resorting to the “bullet hell” tactics that shooters like the Touhou Project franchise employ. That is perfectly fine, and I have no issue with that; you instantly die when you touch barriers- that is perfectly fine; you only have three lives (or credits), each with three ships that can only take a few hits before dying- that is fine; when you lose a ship, all your upgrades have to be collected ASAP or you’ll miss them- makes sense; when you lose a credit, you lose all your upgrades permanently, even on boss stages- okay, a little unfair, but I can understand the incentive not to perish; when you lose all your credits, you have to start back from the very beginning- wait what?!
It is this last part that angers me because I don’t understand the reasoning behind it. Why force players to restart the entire campaign instead of just the level (levels are divided into 2-3 areas for clarification)? Why not at least give us the option to restart the level, but with our high score dropped back to zero? I suspect it is because the developers knew that Rigid Force Alpha would not be a long game. At best, it’ll take you 1-2 hours to beat the storyline entirely and, as such, decided to artificially-elongate it by throwing in this sucker punch.
Now, I know that there will be people who defend this decision by com8com1, and they are entitled to their views. But for me, it was disappointing because this was a shooter that managed to nail the in-game difficulty formula, yet still chose to incorporate a synthetic difficulty move like this. It’s clearly a homage to those old arcade cabinets from the 80s, with the credit screen even having a 10-second countdown timer to click continue, reminding us of the good ole days where you had to jumble quickly for a quarter lest you lose all your progress. However, I maintain that lives are an outdated function in today’s gaming world (something that Nintendo needs to get on board with), and putting them in here doesn’t do anything but make Rigid Force Alpha look like a relic, especially with the GameCube graphics.
Ironically, you can unlock an arcade mode where you can replay levels to increase your hi-score, as well as a boss rush mode where you can re-fight all the game’s antagonists, similar to the Thunder Dragon’s Lightning Round from The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. These are pretty cool additions and do add to the game’s longevity. However, even with these, unless you’re someone who likes replaying a game, I’m not sure you’ll get 10 hours worth of value from Rigid Force Alpha, which is what the $20.00 asking price requires per my standards.
But different strokes for different folks. If you feel like you’ll get your money’s worth out of this game, go for it, especially since it’s coming from an indie developer.
+Good in-game difficulty
+Great, if overly-nostalgic, soundtrack
-Identity crisis in game design
-Not enough bang for your buck
-Having to restart game if you lose all your lives
Reviewed on PC through Steam