Rigid Force Redux actually came out quite a while back and I very much enjoyed it back then — but this week a physical copy that I completely forgot existed (and that I’d ordered) plopped through my letterbox and reminded me that I should probably revisit — and write about — this excellent horizontal scroller.
Let’s cut to the chase: if you like R-Type, you will like Rigid Force Redux, because Rigid Force Redux desperately, desperately wishes it was R-Type. It wishes it was R-Type to such a degree that one of its bosses is pretty much just R-Type’s Gomander flipped on its side and coloured green, and that its bolt-on power-ups are referred to as “Force Fragments”.
This is no cheap and lazy clone, mind; not only does Rigid Force Redux understand what made R-Type tick and why it’s always been such a beloved entry in the shoot ’em up genre, it also acknowledges that R-Type is notoriously challenging and thus perhaps not the most accessible shoot ’em up you’ll ever encounter. To that end, let me amend my above statement: if you like R-Type but wish it had the option for it to be just a little bit easier, you will like Rigid Force Redux.
Note that I say “the option”. On Rigid Force Redux’s hardest difficulty level, it’s one-hit kills, just like in R-Type, and the enemy formations come thick and fast — just like R-Type. But plump for the Easy or Medium difficulty levels and you can take multiple hits before being destroyed — and you might be surprised what a huge difference that simple change makes to the overall accessibility of the game.
In Rigid Force Redux, you are the pilot of the top-of-the-line Rigid Force Alpha space fighter, which features a helpful AI companion known as PSYE. As your mission begins, you receive a distress signal from a research base that has been working on “CORE” technology — a potentially limitless source of energy that not only powers Rigid Force Alpha’s systems, it also has plenty of other applications.
It seems that an unknown invading force is quite keen to explore those other applications — particularly those which are military in nature. And as is usually the case in situations like this, it’s up to ol’ Muggins to swoop in and singlehandedly sort everything out. Because who needs any sort of organised spaceborne security agency when you can simply send in a heavily-armed but strangely fragile tiny little fighter with an apparently limitless supply of ammunition to blow the snot out of everything?
Rigid Force Redux’s story is just as dumb as in most other shoot ’em ups, then, but at least it is delivered well, with a stirring, synth-heavy soundtrack and some excellent voice acting available in three different languages, including Japanese. I would draw particular attention to that last one because developer Com8Com1 is actually German in origin; it’s clear from the quality of Rigid Force Redux that they have a great love for the classics of the Japanese arcade, and including the option for a Japanese voiceover further adds to the game’s overall sense of “authenticity”, for want of a better term.
Rigid Force Redux unfolds over the course of six different levels, each of which is themed noticeably differently. Some feature battles in deep space, others on a planet surface, others inside cave networks or military facilities. In keeping with the R-Type inspiration, progressing through a Rigid Force Redux stage is as much about learning the environmental hazards as it is about memorising enemy patterns; as you progress, you’ll have to content with natural hazards such as rockslides as well as mechanised environmental security measures such as laser barriers and huge energy cannons.
The Rigid Force Alpha is equipped with a basic cannon that, although fairly weedy-feeling, is capable of firing rapidly and does a respectable amount of damage; this means that if you cark it during a boss fight and are forced to continue fighting without power-ups, you’re by no means in an unwinnable situation — you’ll just have to fire a bit more accurately, since the main upgrade the additional weapons offer is a broader spread of shots.
There are three main weapon upgrades you can nab in Rigid Force Redux: a blue laser which is powerful and fires straight ahead; a yellow spread shot which, well, spreads; and a green bouncy shot that reflects off walls and floors at high speed. Each of these can be upgraded by collecting the aforementioned “Force Fragments”, of which you can have up to four.
Here’s one noticeable distinction between Rigid Force Redux and R-Type: while collecting a Force Fragment does indeed provide you with an orb-like thing attached to the front of your ship that upgrades your firepower and blocks shots, in Rigid Force Redux you can’t fire it out ahead of yourself to provide supporting fire. What you can do instead is reconfigure your Force Fragments into one of four different positions using the shoulder buttons on your controller. In this way you can focus fire straight ahead, provide a wide shot straight ahead, provide light fire forwards and a spread shot backwards, or provide light fire forwards and focus the majority of your firepower backwards.
The levels are designed in such a way that switching formations is an important part of gameplay, and the simple use of the shoulder buttons means that this process is not at all cumbersome. It’s immensely satisfying to whip the Force Fragments around behind you and take out enemies trying to sneak up on you before focusing your fire on the threat that has just appeared ahead of you.
And speaking of focusing your fire, Rigid Force Redux’s other main distinction from R-Type comes in the form of its charged shot. Rather than simply holding the fire button to charge up a single powerful shot, in Rigid Force Redux you instead build up energy by collecting green gems that drop from defeated enemies. At any point, you can hold down a button to release this energy as a powerful charged shot whose exact form varies according to the weapon you’re currently using; you can also expend a bit of your energy on a frankly useless “sword” attack that can cancel bullets, but you might as well not bother.
Mechanically, then, Rigid Force Redux is fairly straightforward but effective — though if you want to add a bit more mechanical interest to the mix, the game’s Arcade mode features a score multiplier system along with various collectible bonuses; the Main Mission mode, meanwhile, concentrates simply on the “pure” experience.
Aesthetically, Rigid Force Redux is very good. The polygonal visuals are relatively simple, but are complemented well with some nice lighting and special effects, and most importantly for a game like this, they run at a solid and consistent frame rate even on the Switch version. PSYE has an appealing anime-style design, too, which just provides further reason to go with the Japanese voiceover option!
The music is a real highlight, though. Adopting a thick, synth-heavy tone that combines the overall timbre of vapourwave with the energy of modern electronic music, the soundtrack provides a real sense of drama to the experience. Mission briefings are filled with a suitable sense of anticipation, and each stage’s music provides a distinctive sense of atmosphere that complements the visual style well. There are some subtle retro-style chiptune influences here and there, but they’re not overdone; this is a game that is retro-inspired rather than one which is specifically trying to recreate a retro experience.
All in all then, Rigid Force Redux is a great shoot ’em up, well worth your time — particularly if you’re an R-Type fan and especially if you’re an R-Type fan who wishes that series would go a little bit easier on you sometimes. Plus with the physical version out there in the wild, you can own a copy to go on your shelf now, too. And if you’re a shoot ’em up collector, this is one worth owning.
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