Saturday, 9 February 2013

REVIEW - Rico : A Tale Of Two Brothers (PC Indie)

He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother

Brothers fighting each other is nothing new; I remember altercations with my younger sibling that could have been on World's Wildest Prison Fights (if such a program were to exist). It is this inevitable squabbling and sibling rivalry that forms the plot for this retro indie platformer from IMakeGames.

The titular Rico is the older brother, and is also the bad guy of the piece, the yin against the nameless younger brother's yang. That he is black and the hero is white also raises questions about their parents that only DNA testing could resolve, as well as borderline racial overtones that are far to heavy to get into here. Anyway, the brothers have been fighting for all eternity, with their clashes always resulting in a tie. Unfortunately (for the younger brother anyway), one day Rico finally emerges victorious, and proceeds to strip little bro of his powers. This sends the world's balance out of sync, and Jonny No-name must now work his way through 4 worlds of back-to-basics 2D platforming in order to kick Rico's ass and restore the balance.

All this is irrelevant to the proceeding jumping and coin collecting antics involved in the genre, but the minimalist storyline actually adds a little to the experience, especially as Rico turns up at the end of each world as a boss. Throughout the levels are golden coins, well they are called crystals but they look (and sound) like coins from Super Mario Bros. Collecting them all is important as Rico sucks up the ones you missed in order to gain extra hit points in your encounters with him.

The 8-bit graphics are basic, but they are colourful, clear, and pleasing to the eye. The little details such as swaying plants and bubbling lava add a sense of life to the stages and make them much more interesting to explore. This is also due to the excellent level design, which offers up enough nooks and crannies filled with more "crystals" to make you want to explore every inch of the stage. This is no Metroidvania though, as levels are fairly linear, but it never claims to be anything more than a 'reach the end of the level' platformer, and is all the more enjoyable for it. The sound effects are of the 'NES' variety, lots of familiar sounding bleeps and bloops, though they fit in well with the retro graphics. The music, however, really lets the game down. While the chiptune tracks themselves aren't bad per say, they really don't fit the atmosphere of the game. There are also only a few tracks played throughout the game so they get annoying fast. I turned off the music and listened to my own during play, and I advise you do the same. The electronic soundtracks from other indie games such as Snapshot and Machinarium were the perfect fit and made the game feel much more absorbing and less frantic. Annoyingly I had some issues getting the game to work with my Xbox 360 controller, having to resort to (the ever useful) joy2key app to use it correctly. Hopefully this will be fixed in a future update.

Enemies take the form of mines, spikes, bats, instant death lava and projectile spewing traps. Other enemies are introduced as you progress, as well as new abilities. A whip is offered up fairly early on and gives you the means to start fighting back. Another item, and by far my favourite, is the jet pack. Once collected you can become airborne for short periods, using thrust which regenerates when you release the fire button. Using it effectively requires lots of landing on tight spaces, usually surrounded by mines and such. It is great fun and adds a perfect level of variety to the usual on-foot action.

Situated throughout the levels are checkpoints in the form of tombstones. They are fairly limited in number, but placed in just the right spots (usually before a particularly difficult section involving pixel perfect jumps and multiple enemies), to avoid too much retreading of covered ground should you die. In fact, the difficulty level is set just right, it is much more forgiving than either Super Meat Boy or the bloody chore that is They Bleed Pixels, but it offers up enough challenge to put your finely honed platforming skills to the test. Naturally, each world gets more difficult, both in layout and number of enemies and traps. Skillful jumps over airborne platforms, avoiding projectiles and flying critters will be required, as well as coping with disappearing platforms, long underwater sections and jet pack routes through a plethora of mines.

I had a blast playing Rico, and I would go as far as to say it is one of the most enjoyable platformers I have experienced for a while. Keeping things retro and simple is the main reason for this. Everything is a pure test of skill and it isn't bogged down with gimmicks, over the top graphics, disruptive story lines or an insane difficulty level. It is a pure 8-bit platformer at heart and that is its strongest point and a perfect example of good gameplay being the most important part of any game.

The Good

  • Great retro aesthetics
  • Very enjoyable platforming action
  • Challenging and rewarding
  • Perfect difficulty level

The Bad

  • The soundtrack doesn't suit the game at all
  • Controller issues

Developer : IMakeGames
Availability : PC, Mac, Android
Price : £1.99