Roguelike-likes have swiftly become my favorite video game genre, outclassing politically trendy walking simulators and self-flagellation platformers by a long shot. There is randomness, but in a good Roguelike or Roguelike-like (we’ve got to find a better word for this genre) it is tempered by the requring of a large amount of technical skill, a knowledge of the items/levels/etc., and an understanding of the process by which the game’s content is delivered. Risk of Rain succeeds admirably.
The levels in Risk of Rain are not randomized, though the items, enemies, and level exits are. Having a nearly identical layout for each specific named level helps the player plan routes and master the game more quickly, though it may disappoint some hoping for a more jumbled, jarring experience.
Risk of Rain puts you in control of a tiny pixelated space person who fights through endlessly spawning hordes of enemies, collects powerups, and searches for the teleporter exits in each level. The main focus of the game is combat, as endless waves of enemies harass your player until the game is through.
The character variety is enormous, and suits a large range of playstyles. If you want a long-range shooter or a short-range fighter, there are multiple examples of each, but also available are a dude who creates robot minions, a mutant ape that excretes a trail of acid, and other esoteric characters. There is even more variety than Ascendant, and this is my favorite part of the game, though I would still have enjoyed it somewhat even if the player were limited to a single character option.
Each character has four moves available, corresponding to the shoulder buttons on an Xbox 360 controller, which you should be using for this type of PC game. Each move has a cooldown timer after each use to prevent spamming, though the move designated as a basic attack is generally reusable without pause. Interestingly, not all of these moves are attacks; some are dashes, teleports, guards, or other defensive or utilitarian abilities. Experimentation proved to me what fans of the game already know, that the Huntress is the best character simply because she can fire rapidly while moving at full speed. Despite this obvious advantage, every playable character can provide an enjoyable experience throughout the entire game.
Another unique mechanic in Risk of Rain is that the difficulty level increases every 4.5 minutes of play, up to a certain maximum in which overwhelming gobs of enemies assault the player on every screen and bosses have gargantuan life bars. Yet the items given also increase in quantity and quality based on the current difficulty level, which opens an interesting dichotomy: Do you try to rush through the game with utmost speed and risk being underpowered, or take time to get enough power-ups and risk getting crushed by hordes of enemies that even your souped-up character can’t handle? (Is that the… RISK of rain?)
The game answers the question for you if you set the hard mode (“Monsoon”) in the character select screen; in Monsoon, the game increases in difficulty not linearly but exponentially, guaranteeing that you’ll either beat the game quickly or not at all. As is the case with most non-mainstream games, don’t try expect to get far in hard mode unless you have plenty of experience with the game already.
The items Risk of Rain gives the player are random, as is the style with Roguelikes and their derivatives. These include a great deal of different powerups, but probably the strongest are the flying drones you can repair and recruit; a horde of them will rip through bosses even in hard difficulties and leave you mostly unscathed. If I can’t get a train of drones, though, I find the game nearly impossible in later levels unless I get a life steal item, but that’s probably due to my lack of skill at dodging even with agile characters.
Risk of Rain offers a chunky pixelated visual style, but the designs of the environments, the monsters, and the combat effects are sufficiently complex and interesting to prevent me from going on my usual rant about lazy sprite art. My only complaint with the game’s visuals is that in later difficulties, there are WAN MILLYUN TWOOBS on screen and it can be nearly impossible to figure out what to do except shoot wildly until enough foes fall that you can see where to go. This may be irritating, but it was probably intended by the creators as a necessary part of the dynamic difficulty increase.
There are a few minor interface issues. If there are multiple bosses nearby (which happens often as the difficulty raises), Risk of Rain only shows the life meter of one of them, which may or may not be the one you’re fighting at the moment. Fortunately, the final boss fights mostly alone, so you won’t have this problem against him.
My only complaint with the game is that even the default difficulty setting is vastly harder than what normal people are capable of completing. A novice mode might draw in a few more players, but Risk of Rain definitely understands its niche audience of hardcore gamers who ignore plot and just want a vicious but reasonably approachable challenge.
I enjoyed my time with Risk of Rain and I’ll keep playing it in the future. I’d love to see a sequel to this game. Its creators are probably smart enough to know what makes a good sequel: More levels, more enemies, more playable characters, more items. The Binding of Isaac sequels/expansions did it right, and so can Risk of Rain. You should buy this addictive, exceptionally well-crafted game, and support future developments from Hopoo Games.