STAFF REVIEW of Riverbond (Xbox One)

Saturday, July 13, 2019.
by Adam Dileva

Riverbond Box art Are you a fan of Voxel based games such as Minecraft? What about a good dungeon crawler like a Diablo? What if you could have both in one game? That’s what Riverbond, developed by indie studio Cococucumber, is aiming to be. Casual gameplay by design, Riverbond is, oddly enough, a relaxing experience for a dungeon brawler. Meant to be played in short bursts, and generally aimed at a younger audience, there’s some fun to be had if you’re just wanting to kill a good half hour or so at a time, or really enjoy trying to compete cooperatively alongside some friends on the couch.

Set in a beautiful voxel cubed world, you’ll take on an adventure across multiple realms alongside your friends, smashing everything in sight and defeating all enemies along the way. Since the world is voxel based, meaning made of tiny cubes, like Minecraft, everything you kill or destroy explodes into smaller blocks.

While completely playable single player, Riverbond is much more entertaining when you have up to 3 other friends alongside you playing on the same screen. With support of up to 4 players, and drop-in drop-out gameplay co-op, your kids should have no problems swiftly picking it up for a quick round of gaming. Meant for casual play, gameplay is very simplistic and the difficulty is beyond forgiving, so there shouldn’t be much frustration had from anyone that isn’t as skilled as the other siblings or friends playing.

Pick your favorite skin for your character and start hacking away. While skins have no inherent traits, and are simply for looks, there will be some interesting, and funny, skins you’ll acquire as you find them hidden in chests along your adventure. Search hard enough and you’ll even unlock special skins that are crossovers from other games, such as Bastion, Enter the Gungeon, Shovel Knight and Guacamelee! Or, if something more basic is your style, you can be a sword swinging donut, bacon, pig, or multitude of others that will surely make you chuckle.

There are eight worlds that need to be cleared by defeating their respective bosses. Each world is made up of a handful of individual stages, usually 5 or 6, and last roughly a half hour or so each. Each level also gives you a specific objective before unlocking the gate to allow you to progress. These are usually very basic and has you defeating all enemies, finding keys, destroying objects, finding hidden things or other silly goals.

Clear all of the stages and you’ll finally take on that world’s boss, which if you simply circle strafe while shooting your projectile weapon, you’ll eventually whittle them down to nothing, even with their respawning adds. These bosses may not be the most challenging encounters, but again, they aren’t really meant to be, as Riverbond is a more casual experience, meant for a younger audience.

Interestingly, you’re able to play any of the eight worlds in any order you like, and apparently they are all tied together in some way, but the narrative is so paper thin that I couldn’t even remember much of it by the time I got to writing this after finishing it. Again, this is alright, as the younger audience will simply want to hack and slash until they move on to something else.

What surprised me the most was how death really isn’t a hindrance at all. I fully expected that when I died, I would have to restart that level all over again from the beginning, but you don’t. Instead, you simply respawn at the beginning of the level you’re on, or checkpoint if you’ve unlocked one, and continue searching for your objectives. All of the enemies you killed are still dead and they don’t even reappear. For the younger players, or less skilled, this is a great feature.

Riverbond’s main hook comes from its wide variety of weapons and skins you find along the way. You begin with a simple sword and gun, allowing for melee or ranged combat, but you’ll find a ton of more weapons along the way in chests. I can’t tell if weapons you find are fixed or random, but it seems the quality of weapons you get can vastly fluctuate. For example, your starter sword may do 15 damage per swing, but the new one you just found can either be much better, or even worse, damage wise.

Sadly, there’s no way to tell how good a weapon is either until you swing, or shoot, away on a few enemies and look at the numbers. I wish there was some way to see the stats of a weapon before picking it up, as you can only hold, but rotate, a certain amount of weapons at a time. There are a variety of weapons though, so you’re bound to find one that suits your playstyle. Some may like the slower swinging, but higher damage, clubs, whereas I chose to stick with the low damage but ultra-quick dual weapons.

Even better, weapons are just as silly as the character skins. Sure, you’ll find some standard swords and machine guns, but you’ll also find bear claws, samurai swords and a few other hilarious ones that you’ll want to try out. Ammo is unlimited, though you’ll need to take time to reload when your clip is empty, and ranged weapons greatly vary just like their melee counterparts. With over 50 weapons to find and play with, my only complaint is that I wish I could see their stats before replacing them in my inventory.

Riverbond’s world is beautiful, even in its simplistic form. Smashing almost everything I see is fun, as is defeating the massive bosses at the end of each world. Audio is just as fitting and never seemed to grate on me during my playthrough of each world either. Unlocking new skins is fun and I found myself rotating new skins each level just to keep things fresh, even if they have no inherent abilities or differences aside from their looks.

If you have kids in the house, or friends that come over often, Riverbond can be a fun way to spend a few hours. While there’s little reason to continue playing after completing all the worlds, aside from trying to get a better high score, there’s potential within, even if it is basic at its core, as I know I would have stuck with it for a few more playthroughs if it had online co-op. Even still, if you have Gamepass, it’s free, so you might as well get to swinging that voxel sword.

Overall: 7.0 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.5 / 10
Sound: 7.5 / 10


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