So this review is probably going to be a little shorter than my usual offerings, with today's title fitting firmly into the "simple concept that's easy to grasp but difficult to master" mold of video games.
It's a SHMUP, a genre we're all familiar with I'm sure, but one with a concept that I'd never experienced before and also what drew me to it in the first place. It plays very different from any other SHMUP I've spent time with over the years and features none of the usual mechanics I'd expect. There's no mass of weapon pickups giving you an armadas worth of firepower, there's no bullet hell of enemy fire to avoid or blinding over-the-top effects.
In fact "Risk System" takes a stripped-down approach to its style and mechanics, relying on its core concept to carry the gameplay.
And, in my opinion, it totally works.
Taking the form of a horizontal scrolling shooter, your small craft is the galaxy's last hope as it fights it was through an invading force. Even worse though, this invading force is made up of your own people, mind-controlled to fight against you, with your former squadmates functioning as generals that must be taken down at the end of each stage.
Before you can get to them though you'll need to fight your way through the attacking forces and this is obviously where the core mechanic comes in, the "Risk System" of the game's title. Your little starfighter is equipped with an energy-absorbing shield and this plays a major, no scratch that, an ESSENTIAL part of the gameplay. You see any energy you can drain is channeled directly into your crafts superweapon, a powerful smart bomb that wipes out everything in a wide range, does major damage to bosses, and even grants a few seconds of invincibility too.
"But how does this work in practice?" I hear you ask. Well, let me tell you. Much like a normal scrolling SHMUP, you can take out normal low-level enemies with your basic weapon: a forward-facing, rapid-firing cannon. Unlike a normal shooter though, this weapon fires automatically whenever enemies are directly in front of your ship (this can be changed if you want though) and leaves you to concentrate on dodging and maneuvering around the screen. Relying on this weapon alone though won't be enough, as you quickly discover situations that need a different approach to overcome. To give an example, early on you'll come across enemies that work in pairs to block your progress. One will sit at the top of the screen, another at the bottom, with them both firing a constant beam between them. If you don't destroy both quickly, dropping the beam, the scrolling of the screen will cause you to crash into the enemy fire and you'll take damage. Now if you move quickly, you might be able to take down the first pair with your normal weapons but they are closely followed by a second pair, and a third pair, and a fourth pair, and so on, that come too fast for your normal weapon alone to deal with.
So what do you do? Well instead of hanging back and blasting them from afar, you get as close to the beam as possible, absorbing its energy to power your special weapon. The bar fills extremely quickly, taking only a couple of seconds of contact to completely charge, you then let it loose and destroy most of them in one shot. Not only will this destroy everything on the screen, but it also causes enemies to release the only pickups in the game, small capsules of health that restore your 3 energy sections. I've already stated how essential this superweapon is and you should quickly learn to use it as much as possible, getting into the habit of skimming closely to any enemy fire you come across. Attackers come in many forms, with many different attacks, but thankfully these are easy to spot with all enemy attacks using large brightly colored energy to make them stand out. With the normal guns being auto-firing, and the pixel art style being very uncluttered, moving your ship close to these attacks should quickly become second nature if you want to survive. At first, this can be a little difficult. It's surprising how difficult it is to stay close enough to absorb the energy but not actually touch the attack. However, practice will make perfect and pulling it off becomes extremely satisfying when you learn to pull it off consistently.
Learning and using this technique is a necessity when dealing with the end of stage bosses. Large crafts, all with different designs, well detailed, and very cool looking, these opponents take a lot of punishment and have 3 or 4 very damaging attacks they'll cycle through at random during the battle. These fights are almost like puzzles rather than the standard "just keep doing damage" battles of other SHMUPs and you have to work out how to avoid each attack in a certain way. This might involve sitting in the boss's shadow when its special attack goes off as its own body will block the beam, making the only safe space of the screen. You might need to make sure your ship is hiding behind one of the background walls that are whizzing by at speed, using it to block incoming fire. Or it might be you need to steal energy from the boss's beam weapon as it chases you around the screen, trying to fill your special weapon bar and use its invincibility to survive when the attack ultimately has you cornered. Working out these solutions is the most fun part of the game, and trying to do it without a single hit is truly challenging.
And the level of challenge is something that Risk System caters to on both sides of the spectrum. Risk Sytem contains a ranking system. Newcomers to the genre or less confident players can simply aim to complete the level, however, the hardcore can aim for perfection with the game's S rank. This rank is earned by not taking a single hit and will also unlock an achievement for each level. This gives the hardcore as well as the less experienced something to aim for and increases replayability, as you can go back to test your skills as you get better.
Ultimately I really enjoyed my time with Risk System and will be going back to get those last few S Ranks that eluded me. It has something for those both new to the genre and veterans of it with a unique twist that makes it unlike any SHMUP I've played before. Working out how to get through each level, and defeat each boss, without receiving any damage is both fun and rewarding when you do it but never feels like something that's out of reach. The beautiful pixel art sprites look great but manage to stay uncluttered making seeing those essential enemy attacks easy to spot. My only criticism might be that some people might be put off by the lack of different weapons, expecting different pickups and such to increase their power. Get to grips with the game's main concept, the charging and use of your superweapon though and those worries melt away. It might be a one-trick pony, but it's an impressive and enjoyable trick! One I'd recommend to SHMUP veterans as it does something different with the genre, newbs will also find much to enjoy in this little shooter.
Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 8.5/10
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