Much like Supermarket Shriek, Riverbond released out of nowhere on the heels of E3 last week. In fact, not only did it pop up out the blue, but it found itself a cozy position in the ever expansive Xbox Game Pass program. The question is, however, is it worth your time? Without wasting any time, I would certainly recommend giving it a go. Sure, it’s hardly going to blow your socks off, but the game, despite its flaws, does manage to get a lot right. It helps, of course, that the entire experience is fairly straight to the point and quite fun.
There no real story present here. In fact, the game doesn’t really explain much of anything at all. When you dive on in, you’ll be given the option of selecting from a total of eight levels; Restwater Valley, Wailing Mines, Hogmarsh Hollow, Stonefrost Peak, Sandwall, Lost Museum, Sky Garden, and, Ash Fortress. There’s also a short yet informative tutorial to take to should you want to freshen up before hitting the fields of play, so to speak. Though, in total honesty, the game didn’t really need it; it’s a very fluid trek when all is said and done.
Riverbond serves itself as a frantic couch co-op adventure game for up to four players, in which you’ll embark on a journey to battle foes and destroy environmental pieces as you work towards fulfilling missions. That, is pretty much the gist of the premise, but it works well, however basic it may seem. Each aforementioned level offers a short campaign of sorts, roughly taking thirty minutes per-whack to complete. Whilst some may find the crux of play repetitive and slow paced, visual repetition is kept at bay through level diversity.
The levels themselves are set across multiple areas, and in each area you’ll need to complete set missions and tasks. Once you accomplish a feat, a doorway situated elsewhere in the level will open up; allowing you to traverse through to new areas to take on new objectives. This process will rinse and repeat a few times until you’re throw to the boss of said level, and once defeated, you’ll be free to go back and select another run. The objectives you’re assigned tend to vary quite nicely, but almost always remain fairly basic.
You’ll beat the living hell out of cute enemies, locate useful items such as keys, and even bash objects to smithereens. Each level attempts to breathe life into its world through littering NPCs all over; many of which will chat to you and provide tips should you need them. Like I said, this is a very open game that caters for most age brackets. This much is especially true when we take the game’s stunning voxel-based presentation into account, being that everything within is so freaking damn cute, charming, vibrant, and colorful.
Hell, even the combat is cutesy and laid-back. Combat amounts to little more than thumbstick flicking and dodging attacks. There’s a wide range of different weapons in the game to take to, ranging swords, spears, clubs, guns, dual weapons, and much more besides. Each weapon houses a distinct feel, mostly due to the varying damage outputs and attack speeds. Outside of weaponry, you can also utilize a special attack from time to time, one that sees you thrown high in the air before ground pounding your enemies to dust.
Speaking of enemies, there’s a nice variation present, all of which house distinct movement and attack patterns. I can say as much about the game’s bosses too, being that they’re easily the most challenging elements of play. It can take some time to understand the motives of a boss, but bear with it, because they’re very rewarding to take out. The drawback? Whilst there’s a lot of fun to be had, you’ll slowly begin to realize that you’re doing the same thing level-in and level-out. That doesn’t sit too well with its slow pace neither, I’m afraid to say.
This isn’t a deal breaker by any means, but something to be mindful of. This is one of those games that you simply go through the motions with, rather than be wholly captivated by. When you’re not battling for supremacy, you’ll most likely be spending some time platforming within. The game tends to switch between these aspects, throwing you hordes of foes to overcome, and them demanding you take on some brisk platforming. Regardless as to what you’re doing, the game’s difficulty never really dynamically ramps things up.
In fact, it’s the levels themselves that grow in complexity; each new level gradually upping the ante. Mercifully, the game’s handling is supreme from start to finish. Riverbond controls like an absolute dream, giving you plenty of room to find precision and accuracy across the board. That, ladies and gents, is the sum of the game’s depth. You’ll select a world, jump on in, fulfill tasks, beat a boss, and rinse and repeat. Whilst playing, you’ll begin unlocking new character skins for your troubles, lending the game a bit more diversity.
Whilst the characters are really only aesthetically different, it’s nice to chase ’em down and casually add them to your collection. Characters vary well, and given the game’s target audience, youngsters will no doubt gravitate to new favorites at the drop of a hat. I’ve had a barrel of fun with Riverbond, but there’s clearly a lot of room for improvement. Firstly, it would have been nice to see more reasons to return to the game’s gorgeous worlds, though, as it stands, there’s almost no replay value nor point in playing a level more than once.
When you’ve played a level once and completed it, you’ll likely have seen and done everything there is to do. Riverbond feels as though it’s a game that can pull you back time and time again, so to see this lack of structural depth is quite disheartening. Secondly, I would have welcomed a stricter difficulty. I appreciate the game wants to cater for all ages, but still, it can oftentimes feel just a little too safe, and a little too slow. Thirdly, where the heck are the leaderboards at? Hopefully we get to see these added in due course.
Whatever the case, and with its faults in mind, Riverbond is still worth taking a trip to. It manages to get more right than it gets wrong, and will no doubt have you and your siblings, children, and friends, engaged for a few hours on a quiet evening. In regards to the game’s visual and audio design, the game gets a pass on both fronts. There’s a lot of detail here, and no shortage of wonder to soak up. It helps that the game’s sound design is equally as impressive, giving out fantastical cues and a solid soundtrack to tie everything together.
The bottom line in all of this? Well, as alluded to above, you wont be blown away by Riverbond. That said, you’re unlikely to be disappointed by what’s on offer. Hopefully the developer reacts well to feedback and implements a few changes in the near future. There’s a great deal of potential here, and it falls to them to tap into that now. For its cost, you could go much, much worse. If, on the other hand, you have an active Xbox Game Pass subscriptions, there’s no reason to hold back. Set this to install and go have some fun.
Despite the absence of needed features, despite its lack of replay value, and despite the fact that it’s not all that difficult, there’s still quite a bit of fun to be had in Riverbond. Not only is the game accessible, charming, and unique, but it sports a fair bit of diversity as far as its gameplay is concerned, and manages to spread it well across its handful of varied, gorgeously designed worlds. It’s just a shame it falls short of the mark elsewhere.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.