E3 is a fantastic time in the gaming calendar. It brings us exciting new announcements, breathtaking trailers, and occasionally, it brings the odd game release or two. Riverbond was one such game that found itself sprung upon the Xbox community hot on the heels of E3 2019, and what’s more, it made its way to the Xbox Game Pass for everyone to enjoy. What is Riverbond though? Should you be playing it? And is it as cute as those early images suggest? Let’s take a stroll through Riverbond!
From the off, very little is explained. There’s no story to speak of, there’s no understanding as to why you’re here, you just… are. Fortunately, none of that is important, and it doesn’t take long to figure out just what it is you’re supposed to be doing!
Players begin by selecting from one of the eight available levels, and within each, they must work together in up to four player couch co-op to complete missions. These usually revolve around battling the various enemies that reside within a given level, as well as destroying certain environmental objects to progress. It’s a bit simple, but it graciously presents that simplicity with a cutesy appeal, and fun-loving aesthetic. Given it’s a game that quite clearly targets the younger/family audience, it doesn’t really need to be a ton more in-depth than that.
Progressing through each level is simple enough, and as your complete objectives, a door will open up somewhere within your current level allowing progress and the chance to move forward as you head out in search of the boss. Beat that, and you’ll be off on a new run all over again with new objectives and a new boss to hunt down.
One thing that takes a lot of what is essentially the violence out of things, is just how cute each of the characters and enemies that do the bashing actually look. The game is played from an angled top-down perspective and with pixelated visuals reminiscent of Minecraft, there is a very innocent look to things – even when you are going equipped with an axe in your hand!
As far as combat is concerned, things are once more kept majorly simple with players utilising thumbsticks to both attack and dodge the various enemies. Even though each enemy brings its own patterns of attack, the rather basic difficulty ensures that things never feel all that challenging. Now for some, that will surely be a minor irritation and whilst Riverbond is certainly trying to appeal to gamers of all ages and abilities, the more hardcore gamers out there will find little challenge at any point.
Where things start to grate however is in the repetitivity of it all. You see, with levels proving rather short, it doesn’t take long before you start to see similar objectives recurring. There is a variation but it only takes one or two levels until you’ve really seen everything that you’re going to be doing for the rest of your time with Riverbond. That’s not to say it’s not worth going back to for another go, but if you’re looking for something a little more varied, you may be slightly disappointed.
Each of the levels within the game do have a little more than simply attacking cute enemies and destroying world items though. There are numerous NPCs spread throughout and you can talk to these in order to gain helpful tips. It is because of this that there is good reason to explore thoroughly, although again, if you’re wanting something a little more taxing then Riverbond may not be for you.
For many though, there is enjoyment to be had. Objectives are simple, the game world is colourful and vibrant, enemies are plentiful and varied, and there is a smooth control system throughout that ensures Riverbond runs like a dream. Even weapons are varied with spears, clubs, swords, guns and much more all available to beat down the enemies with. This stops the combat feeling as repetitive as it actually is, and should you fancy something different still, then the special attacks will provide that extra little should you decide to utilise them, although they aren’t needed.
The only real disappointment for me comes from the fact that even though each level has plenty to explore, the blocky nature feels like a missed opportunity. In similar block based adventures – Minecraft being the reference point here – having a game world that exists far beyond just the surface area is something that can really open a game up. Further caves and areas to explore could have potentially seen a lot more scope for variety all around. It’s nothing major of course, but it does seem like an obvious glaring miss.
Riverbond on Xbox One isn’t likely to be a game that adults will fall in love with due to the repetitive nature, but the game does a fantastic job of appealing to the younger gamer. Although it may not be a contender for Game of The Year, you don’t have to look far to see the love and dedication that has been put in from the developers into making this an open-to-all-ages experience, and if you can look past the repetitive edge, there is no reason not to pull friends and family together to sit down with this cutesy adventure.