Rive: Ultimate Edition is a really fun and well-designed space shooter... most of the time. When it's not suffering from the very occasional major issue, it's a great combination of classic space shooters, 360-degree shooters, and a platformer. The game's writing is fun when it's not going too over-the-top with video game references, and it continually throws new challenges at you, keeping the gameplay mostly fresh. Overall, it's definitely worth the trip, but beware that you might get trapped in a really bad situation thanks to poor design.
The plot of Rive is simple and somewhat unnecessary, but it adds a bit of fun to the whole package. Your character ends up trapped in a giant starship in space, watched by a bored AI who is intent on keeping you on the starship forever. The banter between your character and the AI is pretty fun, and your character's own personal musings can be enjoyable as well. Rive can be a little too heavy-handed with the classic video game references sometimes, as well as random jokes from movies and such, but it's not enough to really ruin the experience like it did with Bear With Me.
You play the game as a tiny little ship, piloted by a gruff trucker-type character who loves classic shooter games. Most of the game is a combination of a shooter and a platformer; you'll travel through the interior of the ship, jumping across platforms and shooting in every direction to take out the enemies constantly coming after you. Other parts of the game remove the platforming elements and let you move and shoot in any direction, as you would expect from a traditional shooter. Both of these modes play very well, with really solid twin-stick controls that make smart use of the Switch's controllers. There are some other variants that come up during the campaign, but I'll leave them as a surprise for players.
Rive is far heavier on combat than it is on platforming. It's hard to walk twenty feet without finding yourself trapped in a room with waves and waves of enemies swooping down to try and ruin your day; even on the normal difficulty, you'll have to do some careful dodging and shooting if you want to stay alive. I expected this to get repetitive, but the game does a great job of changing up the combat scenarios, so it's rare for two encounters to feel all that similar. Instead of getting bored, I got hooked.
Another element that quickly becomes critical to the gameplay is hacking. On top of your normal and special weapons, you have a hacking beam that lets you hit switches, open doors, and recruit enemies to your side. You can find robots that heal you, attack for you, etc. This is a really neat addition to the game, and it helps make the really difficult battles feel less overwhelming. Earlier on in the game you don't get much choice in who you recruit, but this gets better as the game goes on and you unlock more potential hacks.
The huge amounts of enemies and bullets and obstacles on the screen can get overwhelming sometimes, making it hard to see what you need to do to not die, but it wasn't anything that ruined the experience for me. What's more painful are the handful of instances where the game feels like trial and error. There were more than a few times where I simply had to die in order to understand what I was supposed to do in a given situation, which is not a great sentence to write in a game review.
The difficulty is mitigated by a very frequent, and very generous, automatic checkpoint system. You never have to repeat an encounter that you complete, and often times you'll checkpoint in the middle of one of the longer battles, which is great. There are no extra lives, either, so you can throw yourself at a challenge as many times as you want. However, this is where I ran into a crippling game bug: during the tenth mission, the game saved me at a checkpoint that instantly killed me as soon as I loaded my game. Thankfully, I only had to restart the mission instead of the entire game, but this was a really infuriaring moment that's coloring my impressive of Rive overall.
Visually, the game is quite nice; it has a two-dimensional pixelated look to it, and the visual design of the starship is excellent, striking a tone of mysterious, advanced and dilapidated. As mentioned before, it can get confusing when too many things show up on screen at once during a battle, but I eventually figured out how make it work. The audio is also good; the voice acting gets a thumbs-up from me, and the music has a bit of a retro feel to it, despite a more modern orchestration. I couldn't recall any of the songs off the top of my head, but there aren't many games that do that these days.
If the normal campaign isn't your cup of tea, there are plenty of extra modes packed into this Ultimate Edition. You can play the campaign in single-credit mode, where you have one life to get as far as you can; you can also play the game in speedrun mode, which skips cutscenes and adds a timer in the corner to check how fast you're going. On top of that, the game has global leaderboards to compare yourself to, daily challenges, and endless battle arenas to play in. There's a lot to do here. The game also comes with 48 achievements, but with no official achievement system on the Switch, it's unclear why you would want them.
Rive has its share of flaws, including one really infuriating one, but otherwise it's a well-made and very entertaining space shooter. If you enjoyed any of the classic shooters, this one should tickle your fancy as well. It's solid space shooting gameplay with some clever additions to it, with plenty of content to keep you coming back. Just be careful of those checkpoints.
Final score: 8.5 out of 10
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.