Rift Racoon is a game built on a single, repeated mechanic, and your enjoyment will depend on whether it gives you pain or pleasure. The fact it took us a week to generate the enthusiasm to finish Rift Racoon when it is, front-to-back, no more than a couple of hours of gameplay, should tell you where we land on the issue.
You are Tucker, a racoon and a test subject in an Aperture Science-style test lab. The developers are very keen to show the scientists cuddling and chatting with the racoon, so that it’s absolutely, definitely not animal testing. But you’re put through your paces anyway, jumping over spikes, climbing walls, and sliding down walls to avoid more spikes. Nope, not animal cruelty at all.
At the end of level 1, you cross paths with a scientist in a hurry, and pick up a bracelet-like item on the floor. It turns out that this is an ‘Interstice’, a spacial displacement device that allows you to teleport a short distance. So you’re now passing through walls, floors and ceilings to get to checkpoints and eventually the end of the level, where you’re awarded a healthy achievement. Each level has a blue gem to find, so you’ll be keeping an eye out for them too, particularly as they net you further achievements.
If you’re a fan of precision platformers like Celeste and Meat Boy, there may well be some nuggets of enjoyment here. The levels are short but taxing, with platforms moving at a hell of a pace, and exact reflexes needed to navigate them. Even without the teleporting, Rift Racoon would have been a decent challenge.
With the teleporting, we were at the edge of our capability. There are effectively two ways to teleport. One is to hold X, so you can see a hazy ghost of where you’re going to appear. The other is by single-tapping X, which auto-teleports you without showing the ghost beforehand. Both will teleport you the same distance, roughly four racoons away, and you can do so in any of the four cardinal directions.
The levels are built around these phase-jumps, never more than a few minutes to complete, but loaded with chasms that need you to phase at the end, spikes that you must be teleported over, and hidden gaps in walls for you to jump into. Rift Racoon has a library of ways to use your teleport, and loves dipping into it.
For us, though, we carried an intense dislike of the teleporting. There’s no room for error, for one: if you teleport and your foot is still on the floor, or your head is clipping into a ceiling, then you are dead. We can’t imagine who would want to have one-hit kills activated (we recommend immediately switching from the default Normal down to Easy mode), because a single mis-placement of a teleport will send you right back to a checkpoint. When you’re doing single-tap phases to move at speed, you often don’t have the time to precisely judge them, and you’ll die by merging with a platform more times than you can count.
Then there are the controls. To teleport up, you need to hold up on the analogue stick. It makes sense. But sometimes you need the analogue stick for jumping. For example, Rift Racoon likes to require an ‘up’ teleport at the end of a long jump. You might be crossing a crevasse but also aiming to land on a high platform. To pull this off, you need to be holding BOTH up and right at the same time, using the same stick, which is obviously impossible. So, you’re jamming the stick in the right direction at the last possible moment, hoping that you’ve compromised neither the jump or the phase-jump. More often than not, you will have phased into a wall and have to start again.
Putting racoon controls and teleporting controls on the same stick became a relentless bugger. It never failed to feel janky. But instead of being generous, and offering a few safety nets, Rift Racoon sees you are down and puts the boot in. Checkpoints can be pretty far apart, and non-existent on some of the shorter levels. Wall-climbs are on a shared cooldown of some kind, so you can’t wall-climb and then teleport to another wall-climb. And the hitboxes of certain obstacles are really small, requiring precision. Around mid-way you unlock some floaty-robot things that allow you to teleport mid-air, but they are tiny and you have to connect with them directly to get their boost.
What could have been a unique-selling point turns out to be an anchor around Rift Racoon’s little furry paw. It keeps dragging down a perfectly adequate and imaginative experience. You’ve got some decent, vibrant pixel art here, a cute protagonist, ten decent chiptune songs, and some well-designed and precise levels. It doesn’t change up much over its runtime, and we would have appreciated a few more backdrops than ‘industrial lab’ and ‘Green Hill Zone’, but the fifty levels fly past at a decent rate. You’ll hit 1000G at about one-third of its runtime. You don’t know how tempted we were to jack it all in once we got to 100%.
There may be someone, somewhere, who can master the counter-intuitive controls of Rift Racoon and have a good time. But we are not that person. It’s a puzzle-platformer that demands precision with its taut levels, but then hands you teleporting abilities that are chaotic at best, cruel at worst. We’ve certainly not experienced a platformer where you spend so much time within the platforms, and we never care to again.
You can buy Rift Racoon from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S