Rifter is a brilliantly conceived 80’s synthwave fuelled speedrunner and the latest from Nub’s Adventure developers IMakeGames. Having never played any of their previous titles, Rifter appears to mark the IMakeGames transition from pixel to polygon and with this transition comes a solid statement. IMakeGames have arrived.
Looking at their developmental history, IMakeGames have shifted into overdrive for Rifter, delivering a simple yet hugely challenging and entertaining platformer that looks and feels excellent and is packed full of replay value. Ever seen a live band where all the members look like they’re having a great time? It’s rare I know. But that’s how Rifter feels. Like everyone involved was having a great time.
You are a Rifter. A being of pure fused energy and speed, capable of destroying spaceships bent on frying you with their electric harpoons and splicing through alien tentacles that fire searing projectiles. Your task is to make your way to the top of various towers scattered across the neon twilight planet, free them from infestation and collect powerful Shards, also called “shinies” that you will use to unlock special upgrades along the way.
Rifter takes place in a great looking world, filled with the purples, blues, yellows, and neons so fashionable amongst 80s revivalists. Far from being a gimmick to satisfy the Tron and beginner’s photoshop tutorial watchers out there, and there are lots that satisfy in that department, Rifter’s positives stretch far beyond mere color scheme. You are guided through the world by Tiny, the game’s version of The Legend of Zelda’s Navi, who intercepts transmissions, guides you through particularly tricky stages and provides some general good humor.
Conversations between characters in Rifter play out in much the same way as Ocarina of Time. An effort has been made to infuse the cast with real personality and the attention given to a slowly unfolding narrative with consistent twists and turns add yet more strings to the game’s bow. The developers could have easily rested on a pretty looking, fast-paced arcader and it would have been perfectly acceptable. But the addition of its engaging narrative made even more delightful by a genuinely funny script nudges Rifter a cut above other titles in the genre currently in its price bracket.
The world is alive in Rifter. Hazards on the ground and walls snap, crackle and pop waiting for you to mess up. The atmosphere fizzes with enemies, projectiles, explosives and analog distortion, all beautifully animated. Lovely little physics flourishes, like the water that sprays up as you fly above add to the detail. Love and care has gone into Rifter. It’s a joy to behold.
Rifter employs extremely simple game mechanics that are quick to learn but long to master. Timing is key as for the most part you’re swinging on a grappling line. Getting used to timing the swing to gain momentum is a challenge and you’re never ever going to get it the first time. But the reward for putting together a series of flowing moves and destructive combos is truly immense and is comparable to the experience of playing Sonic The Hedgehog or Bound.
The mastery of effortlessly connecting strategic moves to enjoy a fluid and uninterrupted gaming experience is one of the factors that makes Rifter so compulsive and rewarding. It’s a rare occasion of late where I find myself driven to ‘get good’ at a game. Rifter is such an occasion.
Musically they’ve gone all out. The soundtrack has been carefully curated and contributions from Gloom Influx’s ‘First LP’ from last year and Zombie Overdrive’s 2016 release ‘Hyperion’ provide the Black Rain meets 80’s workout video soundscape. Very kindly, you can access the soundtrack in the Rifter’s audio settings menu. I did. Often.
Where Rifter potentially falls short is that there isn’t enough of it. Granted the replay value is exceptional and you’ll get hours of unadulterated enjoyment from rerunning levels to gain the somewhat extensive range of skills and upgrades on offer or trying to finish quicker for the speed running completists out there. But I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed at the game’s size. I could have quite happily done another 15 towers and a bunch more levels without getting bored or feeling the repetition.
Rifter is by far one of the, if not THE most fun I’ve had playing a game this year. It’s original yet nostalgic. Fast, yet strategic. Both enjoyable and compulsive. Vibrant graphics and a banging soundtrack. Great job IMakeGames. I can’t wait for the next one.