Shoot ‘em ups (shmups) are all about blasting enemies non-stop, while dodging their onslaught of projectiles. These games really demand a presence of mind and a higher level of concentration to succeed.
There have been a few of these shooters on the Xbox digital storefront in the last couple of years, each being modestly produced and priced, attempting some twist or spin to the tried and tested gameplay. In fact, later this year there will be an all-new remake of R-Type 2 on Xbox, and so it looks like the genre isn’t losing momentum any time soon, making all the available choices a tad overwhelming at times. Risk System is the latest in the line of shmups, sticking to the basics of the genre and style, trying something different. In this case, it succeeds in a meaningful way, getting players to rethink how game design can be fine-tuned in this ancient video game genre.
Dodging and navigating enemy patterns and projectiles has long been the staple of the genre, but in Risk System this is the sole priority as players are not distracted by pressing down on the fire button. It all comes down to dodging enemy offences, but then there is a mechanical incentive to do so. Just barely dodging an enemy or its projectile fills up a gauge which, once fully charged, allows the player to unleash a screen-filling barrage called a Barrier Breaker (pressing the B button on the Xbox Controller). This is the only attack the player is equipped with to even the playing field, but the main emphasis is of course on dodging and manoeuvring carefully.
There are boss battles too – that goes without saying – but the whole dodging and manoeuvring to slowly charge one Hail Mary attack to deal some damage on the boss can be a little inefficient. The level design of Risk System is generally fun and engaging, but the pacing and momentum can take a major dive during the boss encounters given how there are very limited opportunities to deal damage. Still, despite this, the design and pattern of each of the bosses are quite interesting.
Even as a modestly priced indie release, there is a lot to enjoy about the visual presentation of Risk System. The character sprites are detailed and vividly animated, and while the script can be a little on the cringe side, it’s still nice to see enthusiasm in the delivery of the fully voiced dialogue. It’s a cool sci-fi setting and the graphical style generally gets the job done with its use of pastel-coloured sprites.
Ultimately, the development and concept of Risk System has more to do with accessibility rather than innovation, as in the process of creating a test of skill with a little more focus on certain aspects of the game design, it has resulted in a video game that would otherwise be inaccessible to some. Shmups have always been known for their bullet hell conventions, and while Risk System is a challenging game to be sure, there is far more emphasis on defensive play. In several interviews regarding the game, creator Christopher Ekins talks about how the development of the title fundamentally shifted once they became aware of the challenges faced by gamers who wouldn’t have been able to play a traditional shooter. A mix of accessibility and innovation does a lot to help Risk System stand out, despite some kinks in the level design and pacing.
Risk System on Xbox is a game that does the opposite of a traditional shooter, as rather than getting distracted with mounting an attack, the game solely places emphasis on careful avoidance and manoeuvring. Although it shies away from bullet hell conventions, it offers a style of challenge which is satisfying in a different way; a rush that comes with barely scraping by an enemy attack. While it may feel a bit gimmicky for the most part, and the boss battles can slow the pacing of the action, there is a lot to appreciate about the innovation and sci-fi presentation.