rRootage Reloaded is a game that will help you get better at shoot ’em ups. And that makes it a valuable experience.
Doubtless at some point you’ve found yourself wondering how you might be able to improve your own shoot ’em up skills. It’s tricky to determine the best way to do this, and opinions differ as to how to go about it. Some suggest beginning with titles that are more friendly to newcomers and working your way up to harder titles; some suggest throwing yourself in at the deep end for a “trial by fire” until you learn how to survive out of necessity; some suggest games specifically designed to improve your skills, like the peculiar Shmups Skill Test.
rRootage Reloaded, out now for Nintendo Switch, isn’t specifically marketed as a sort of “training tool” or anything like that — but its very design will help you improve your game considerably, particularly when it comes to “bullet hell” titles. And thus it’s a worthwhile investment — plus a damn fine game in its own right, of course.
rRootage has actually been around in one form or another since 2003. It was originally released for PC by creator Kenta Cho, known variously as Saba and ABA Games, and also enjoyed an excellent port to iOS devices back in the days when mobile games didn’t suck endless free-to-play gacha ass.
Like most of Cho’s other games, which were originally released as open-source, rRootage is intended to be an avant-garde homage to old-school arcade shoot ’em ups. That means it’s heavily stylised and not intended to be an attempt to recreate that arcade experience exactly — rather, it makes use of modern high-definition 3D graphics to emulate the look and feel of classic vector graphics displays from the 1980s, and consequently has a rather abstract aesthetic.
Cho cites the classic Rez as a heavy inspiration on his graphic style, which will doubtless be obvious to anyone who sees it, but he also claims to have drawn inspiration from street billboards and influential titles in the shoot ’em up genre such as Radiant Silvergun, Ikaruga and Gradius V. This is especially apparent in rRootage, for reasons that we’ll discuss in a moment.
Cho’s games haven’t seen many conversions to console over the years because he believes most of them are too simple to be commercially successful; that and his tendency to program in a language called D (as opposed to the more common variants of C) makes them difficult to port. There have been a few successes, though; notably Wii title Blast Works, which allows you to effectively create your own shoot ’em ups, features a selection of Cho’s games as bonus content.
So what of rRootage itself, then? Well, it’s a very simple game at heart: in each stage, all you need to do is defeat a boss five times in succession. Each boss typically has two distinct phases, with the second occurring when you whittle its health down to a particular level, clearly indicated on its health bar.
You’re armed with a laser that fires the length of the screen and, depending on the game mode you’re playing, there may also be a subweapon available for use, too. The laser gets more powerful the closer you are to the boss, encouraging you to take more risks for greater rewards, and the subweapons vary considerably from mode to mode.
In the “normal” game mode, your main subweapon is a limited stock of bombs, which create a circular blast which cancels bullets. In the “Psy” mode, which is inspired by Psyvariar, your subweapon slows you down but rewards you for grazing bullets. In “Ika” mode, inspired by Ikaruga, the subweapon button allows you to switch your ship’s colour and absorb matching bullets to fire them back at the boss. And in “GW” mode, drawing inspiration from Giga Wing, a meter gradually fills and, when filled, can be used to summon a short-lived reflector shield to fire bullets back at the boss.
Regardless of which mode you’re playing, the boss will be constantly pelting you with bullet patterns of varying complexity. In the early stages, these can look daunting but move slowly enough to be manageable; in the later levels of the game, meanwhile, they’re designed to put even bullet hell veterans through their paces.
Since there are so many stages — 160 in all across the four modes, each with five bosses who have at least two phases each — the game has a very gradual incline in difficulty, and you’ll find it’s a great way to build up your confidence bit by bit.
The game’s deliberately abstract visual style is also designed to help you understand what is going on, too. It’s all very well knowing that most modern shooters feature a ship sprite with a hitbox that is smaller than the complete sprite, but rRootage makes that super-explicit. Rather than a “ship” as such, your player sprite in rRootage is nothing more than a little red dot (your hitbox) surrounded by green panels which rotate around it. These contrasting colours make it abundantly clear which parts you need to keep safe.
Just to make things extra-clear, though, the bullets have all been designed in a similar manner, with their hurtboxes clearly indicated within their larger sprites. This super-clear, clean visual design is especially helpful when playing the “Psy” mode, where grazing bullets is such a key part of the experience — but it also simply helps in understanding quite how much of a risk you can take at any given time, as well as how that incoming wall of bullets might not actually be quite as impenetrable as you thought!
Before long, you’ll be nimbly dodging in and out of terrifying bullet curtains without a second thought — and you’ll be ready to take those skills over into a shoot ’em up with less abstract presentation. Well, maybe, anyway; with those 160 levels to blast through, rRootage will certainly keep you plenty busy in its own right, and for under a fiver on the Switch (and just 30MB on your SD card!) that’s pretty great value.
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