Riddled Corpses EX is a beautiful, brutal twin-stick shooter

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Today I’d like to talk about a developer known as Diabolical Mind, a solo operation that is the nom de plume of one Daniel Fernandez Chavez. Diabolical Mind has been responsible for an excellent trilogy of “modern retro” games in recent years, and I felt it was high time we celebrated those titles, beginning with Riddled Corpses EX.

Before we jump in, it’s also worth highlighting the contribution of Brok the InvestiGator developer Fabrice Breton, aka Cowcat, for his sterling work in porting Diabolical Mind’s games to console platforms. Not only has Breton done an excellent job on the porting work, but he has also helped Chavez to expand the scope of the games from their original PC releases, meaning that in an inversion of the usual situation, the console versions are actually the definitive way to experience these games, as opposed to the PC originals.

Riddled Corpses EX

So, on to Riddled Corpses EX, then. As the name suggests, it’s about filling undead hordes with holes. The game is, at heart, a top-down, twin-stick shooter for one or two players, and it challenges you to blast your way through five stages on your way to saving the world from a demonic evil being unleashed. Along the way, you’ll mow down countless enemies, gather useful powerups and, perhaps most importantly, earn gold with which you can power up your characters and unlock new ones.

Each stage in Riddled Corpses EX unfolds in waves. In each, you’re locked into an arena with enemies approaching from all sides, and are tasked with surviving until an on-screen timer expires. Once this is done, the screen begins to scroll automatically on its way to the next wave’s arena — though you will continue to encounter enemies during this “travelling” period, so you’ll need to stay on your toes. Once you reach the end of a stage, you’ll have a boss to deal with, and once you beat that boss you’ll be showered with gold and allowed to proceed to the next stage.

Once you’ve cleared a stage for the first time, you can start from that stage on any subsequent run through Riddled Corpses EX’s Story mode. There’s also an Arcade mode, which tasks you with playing through the whole game from the beginning, powering up as you go rather than having persistent progression, and a Survival mode that simply unfolds in a single arena. All three modes can be played either solo or with a second player coming along for the ride, with the latter two offering a fun combination of cooperative and competitive gameplay through the fact the game tracks both your combined and individual scores.

Riddled Corpses EX

Between Story and Survival runs, you can spend your earned gold. Each playable character — of which only one is unlocked at the outset — can be upgraded to a maximum level of 20, and new characters each offer their own unique benefits. Cloe, the first character you’re likely to unlock, for example, has a “magnet” ability that causes gold to automatically be attracted to her rather than you having to go grab it — though in exchange her shots are a tad weaker than the default character Jon.

Four characters and two special weapons can be unlocked by earning enough gold, with two extra characters (the cover stars, in fact) available by accomplishing various in-game milestones such as clearing the Story mode and reaching level 20 with multiple specific other characters. There’s a lot of longevity here if you want to enjoy the game to the fullest — though you will have to be open to a certain amount of grinding, as the rate at which you earn gold is quite slow.

Since Riddled Corpses EX is very challenging in terms of difficulty, though, you’ll likely find that you make gradual, incremental progress through the Story mode as you upgrade your characters a bit at a time. Default character Jon has powerful shots that make him a useful beginner character and one that is eminently appropriate for simply attempting to clear stages with; the subsequent characters you unlock tend to have more “specialist” functions, but are all fun in their own ways.

Riddled Corpses EX

Presentation-wise, Riddled Corpses EX is absolutely beautiful. The game purports to be inspired by 8- and 16-bit games, but it’s unmistakably modern in terms of the amount of beautiful pixel art that is on screen at any given time. Animations are wonderful and packed with personality, the game consistently runs smoothly and slickly, and it’s a genuine pleasure to play.

The audio complements the game wonderfully, too. Featuring two different soundtrack arrangements by composer Jorge “Giorgiost” Olivares, the game’s music also toes that wonderful line between authentically retro and unmistakably modern. Each level has its own musical theme; this combines with unique background visuals and distinctive colour palettes to make every one of the five stages feel like a markedly different experience with its own vibe.

The more subtle touches are worth paying attention to, also. There are plenty of clear audio-visual cues to help you out as you play, such as enemies spawning and flashing red rather than yellow if they’re more likely to be dangerous — perhaps by having the ability to shoot or move more quickly than usual. Enemy bullets are presented in bright, vibrant pink in the grand tradition of Cave shooters to help them stand out against the backdrops. And even amid all the chaos that is often happening on screen, you’ll never lose sight of where your character is.

Riddled Corpses EX

Mechanically, Riddled Corpses EX is elegant, too. The basic twin-stick gameplay features responsive controls, and this core mechanic is supported by a few extra features that add depth and strategy. For example, a combo meter gradually fills as you defeat enemies in succession, and filling this completely rewards you with a temporary period of double-power, larger shots. You can fill this even more quickly by destroying scenery objects, which in turn explode and can damage or kill nearby enemies, too, so picking your targets wisely is essential.

You can also grab power-ups as you play, including clocks that temporarily freeze time (or slow bullet patterns in the case of more powerful enemies) and dynamite bundles that act as powerful screen-clearing bombs. Extra lives appear in both predefined and randomly occuring situations, so if you know where to look you can extend your play session and give yourself a bit more of a buffer against particularly dangerous encounters.

All in all, Riddled Corpses EX is a great game. It’s a few years old at this point, but playing it today, it feels no less fresh than when it first appeared back in 2018. If you’re yet to enjoy the wonderful games of Diabolical Mind for yourself, this is an ideal place to jump in. And if you have a willing couch co-op partner willing to play along with you, be sure to rope them in — the simultaneous two-player mode is a real treat.

Riddled Corpses EX is available now for Nintendo Switch, PS4/Vita cross-buy and Xbox One. A physical release for PS5 is available from Red Art games; sadly, previous physical versions for PS4, Vita and Switch are now out of stock, but you may be able to find them on the second-hand market.

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Pete Davison
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