Review: Rigid Force Alpha
Rigid Force Alpha, is a horizontal spaceship shoot ’em up (or shmup as they are normally called) by com8com1 Software, decidedly retro with a modern twist, Rigid Force Alpha takes you to space.
Interestingly for the genre, Rigid Force Alpha has not only an overarching story but cutscenes and exposition painting a picture of an intergalactic war, most arcade inspired shmups will either throw a bunch of unknown enemies at you to destroy, or give you a quick opening splash screen explaining that aliens are invading and must be destroyed or the like, now with a lot of the older games this was due in part to hardware limitations of the time, but it’s still prevalent in a lot of their sequels and newer games inspired by them, so it’s nice to see some effort put into story as well as the gameplay.
The actual story of Rigid Force Alpha isn’t anything too mind blowing, an AI named PSYE assigns Rigid Force Alpha (the name of your team or ship) a mission to check out a distress call from a space station that is doing works on various scientific projects, on the way too the area you have to deal with a ton of enemy ships and then each other mission follows the same sort of routine, you have to head to area B from area A and ships will attack you, simple enough, but as mentioned above even this is an improvement storywise to most arcade shmups, the story is tight and cohesive with an episodic storytelling rather than a grand space opera with twists and turns that say an RPG would have.
Gameplay wise, the easiest touchstones would be Gradius and R-Type, you pilot a ship which is constantly moving to the left (except in boss fights), and have to destroy enemy ships, avoid fire from said enemies, and avoid collisions with obstacles including walls, debris, and other ships, you start off with a basic machine gun weapon, which you can hold to continually fire, as you destroy certain enemies you will find upgrades and pick ups, these will augment your ships power, either modifying your basic attack, for example by making your shots ricochet or adding additional firepower, chief amongst these upgrades are extra ships, as you play you can pick up additional ships to assist you, these are much smaller than your main ship and act as additional guns, they mirror the type of weapon you are using and you can collect up to four of them to assist you, one of the thing that sets them apart from just being additional guns though is that you have the ability to change their formation to suit the situations, if you are finding a lot of enemies on the left of the screen you can have the ships spread out to cover more area, if you are trying to take down a single enemy you can focus them all to fire forward so you can maximise the damage, if enemies attack from behind, you can’t turn your main ship, but you can get your additional ships to fire behind you, you can also split them up to cover both sides in case you need to clear the entire screen.
Along with your primary fire, you will also have a powerful secondary move which is a chargeable laser, this can be sustained for a ton of damage as long as you have enough energy for it, the energy is found after enemies are destroyed and can be picked up by going over it or activating a bubble around your ship that sucks it all up, while you have the bubble on you can still fire your weapons and move, however you are a lot slower so it’s best to use it sparingly for maximum manoeuvrability, and lastly you have a sort of shield, melee attack hybrid, which also uses energy to protect your shield, if you can get the timing right it can be very useful, otherwise it’s probably better to just dodge and fire instead.
Graphically the game looks very nice, it’s 2.5D, which means the ship models are 3 dimensional but you move on a 2D side scroller axis, hence 2.5D, not quite 3D but more than 2D, the bosses are well designed and have different forms and waves of attack, the screen can get quite hectic with shots flying around everywhere, but the ship stands out enough to find it among the chaos.
Soundwise, the game shines, all the explosions, and laser sounds are present and accounted for, the cutscenes and instructions are fully voiced and the music is some of the best I’ve heard in a game, with an original synthwave soundtrack by DREAMTIME featuring Michael Chait, it sounds glorious, high energy, spacey, retro, it’s no wonder you can get the soundtrack as DLC, it’s the kind of music I could easily find myself listening to while relaxing, writing reviews or even playing other games.
Overall Rigid Force Alpha, is a well made addition to a genre that’s probably had more clones than actual innovation over the years, the controls are tight, the difficulty is challenging but adjustable to scale things for newer players and veterans of the genre, although on that point, Rigid Force Alpha follows its arcade inspirations a bit too closely in the difficulty department, with games of that era being notoriously hard to beat in an effort to extend their lifespan and drain kids of their quarters (or their parents quarters most likely), in a modern home console/PC game the easier options would normally allow for a new player to continue until they can beat the game before starting to add restrictions for more challenge, and each time you fail the cutscenes will play again, however they can be skipped but it would be nice to have an option in the menu to turn off cutscenes that have been seen already or altogether for some of the more impatient players that just want to shoot things.
In coffee terms, Rigid Force Alpha is a classic black coffee, served in a fancy looking mug, with some whipped cream on top to appeal to younger people that might not be interested in a classic straight black coffee these days, the ingredients are good and the topping can be ignored by those that remember how coffee used to be and want that classic taste again.