By all accounts, Keiji Inafune has had a pretty shitty year. The dogpile of hate heaped upon the once beloved Mega Man creator over that long dormant series’ spiritual successor “Mighty No. 9” was swift and merciless, and basically only happened because the game was “just okay” as opposed being a genre redefining retro masterpiece on par with “Shovel Knight” or “Hotline Miami” , which in and of itself is an increasingly rare phenomena in this largely bland, personality devoid current console generation.
Was Mighty No. 9 really that bad? Of course not. It’s mediocrity may have been a gut punch for those that contributed to its Kickstarter and closely followed its development over the three years it took to get into fans’ hands. But most of the venom heaped on Inafune came from mainstream outlets and “core” gamers that wouldn’t have paid much attention to MN9 even if it was as great a revivalist platformer as something like Rayman Origins or Legends, leaving Inafune the whipping boy of the week for your typical Call of Duty t-shirt wearing, Monster swilling, Five Finger Death Punch loving GameStop denizen who hadn’t even heard his name before the MN9 “debacle” hit the IGN news cycle. Don’t be surprised if similarly long gestating 2D revivals “Cuphead” and “Bloodstained” suffer the same fate upon release, failing to live up to the unrealistic expectations of Internet loudmouths who wouldn’t have bought or played them anyway.
My personal opinion: Mighty No. 9 was serviceable, again, nowhere near Shovel Knight levels of excellence. I won’t be buying any “Beck and Call” merch any time soon, but I enjoyed my brief time with the game (to put it in Mega Man parlance, I lost interest around the time your traditional blue bomber would’ve bested the 8 robot masters and moved on to Dr. Wily’s castle), feeling that, with another layer of polish it could’ve gone from good to great, even within its admittedly lo fi framework. My main complaint would be that it’s $20.00 price tag would’ve felt a lot better at $15.00 or $10.00, but I pretty much feel that way about all downloadable games this console gen. Which brings us to ReCore.
Thought to redeem Inafune after the MN9 “shitstorm” (again, if despising that game like you caught it fucking your wife is your thing), ReCore finds he and his Comcept Studio teaming up with Metroid Prime vets Armature to deliver a best-of-both-words experience combining the open, alien world exploration of Samus’ excursions with the wholesale robot murder and power stealing/swapping of her fellow NES born, arm cannon sporting hero Rock. What could possibly go wrong?
Joule and her robot pals are caught in an endless chase.
The release day woes that seem to plague every game these days (even current mainstream darling Gears of War 4, that’s what. ReCore dropped with serious issues regarding loading times, game breaking glitches, and a truncated endgame that screams “we ran out of time and funds”, big money publisher Microsoft most likely pushing ReCore out the door half-baked to both take advantage of its Xbox to PC cross play initiative and to not interfere with the then-upcoming multi-million dollar launch of the aforementioned Gears.
The critical drubbing ReCore received was nowhere near as scathing as Mighty No. 9, mostly due to the inherent greatness of RC’s gameplay and the likability of its main protagonist and her robotic companions. Many writers wished for a patch to tighten up RC’s rough spots, saying that the nearly two minute load times and the “falling through the world, strange repeating dialogue” glitches were marring what was essentially an enjoyable Japanese style character action romp seldom seen since the PS2 era.
Two large patches later, ReCore has improved drastically from a performance perspective. Load times are cut in half, game breaking glitches are almost nowhere to be found, it’s frame rate runs at a steady 30fps during all but the most harrowing enemy encounters and the game’s rushed seeming finale is… well… still there, but more about that later. With these crucial post release improvements, is ReCore ready for prime time?
ReCore places players in the well-worn boots of Joule, awakening on desert planet Far Eden after 200 years in cryo sleep to find it deserted and abandoned as opposed to terraformed and colonized due to the efforts of corrupted “core bots”, initially deployed to aid humanity rather than doom it, and their evil leader Viktor. It’s a decent set up, explaining Joule’s (relative) lack of human companionship and setting her against an antagonist as purely diabolical and perfectly vague as your classic Bowsers or Robotniks.
Along the way Joule will come across core bots sympathetic to her cause to help with both puzzle solving and exploration, along with the game’s Ikaruga-lite color coded combat, in an environment that has more in common with the 3D Zeldas than either Metroid or Mega Man, with a somewhat desolate open world broken up by increasingly difficult “dungeons” (the game even somewhat lazily and hilariously calls them that) on her way to discover the truth behind her father and the other colonists’ disappearances.
She’ll try to keep her sanity with the help of her robot friends.
If you’re charmed by Joule and her mechanical compatriots it’s not a mistake, her and her robot pals are essentially thinly veiled analogues for Rey and BB-8 from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Joule’s droid aided scavenger missions across this desert landscape are basically the best TFA game that the current industry is never going to give us, and that aspect of the presentation alone makes ReCore worth a play through for big TFA fans.
The gameplay is the real attraction here. Calling to mind everything from underrated current gen masterpiece Sunset Overdrive, gleefully strange Xbox 360/PS3 sci-fi shooter Vanquish and similar, sadly forgotten GameCube red headed stepchild P.N. 03, ReCore is an impressively responsive and blisteringly fast ballet of snappy auto aiming, shooting, jumping, dodging and partner/ammo switching. Even towards the end, as the game’s formerly enjoyable overworld and dungeon based progression devolves into seemingly endless wave based battles against nearly impossible enemies, the feeling of getting better and stronger (thanks to the game’s unexpectedly deep level progression and crafting system) was more satisfying than anything I’ve played since the equally misunderstood and unjustly derided DMC.
Graphics wise, the game is does well enough, though there’s probably nothing here that a talented team couldn’t have achieved on either Xbox 360 or PS3. Post patch the game runs smooth about 95% of the time though, with nearly none of the framerate or glitching woes that plagued players pre-release and at immediate launch. There’s a few neat touches here and there, like how Joule’s dash leaves a trail in the sand and the various lighting tricks employed to bring her robo-friends and foes to life. It’s not a bad looking game by any stretch of the imagination (again, post patch), but it’s hardly showcase material either.
The sound design really shines though. Each individual area of the game from the desolate ruins of the terraforming machinery to the wide open deserts, to the Tron-esque cybernetic hellscape of Viktor’s Tower, are equipped with unique, appropriate and extremely well done themes. The dour, flamenco-esque guitar noodling accompanying “The Cradle” area of the map was a particular favorite, and probably resulted in me exploring even more of that (admittedly well designed and interesting) section than I actually needed to. The specific sound effects and “voice” each bot, both allies and enemies, bring them even more to life, just as much, if not more, than the excellent character animation does, and though Joule’s is your typically verbose modern action adventure protagonist, her voice acting and dialogue was well crafted and perfectly implemented enough to never become grating throughout my time with her.
If you’re wondering she he eats and breathes and other science facts, just repeat to yourself: “It’s just a game, I should really just relax…”.
Above all that though, ReCore’s greatest feature may be its budget price tag. Launching at $40.00 USD and probably even less than that by the time you read this, ReCore is an absolute steal at that price point for the gameplay prowess, charming characters and sizeable adventure it has to offer. The somewhat boring and repetitive end run, feeling more like a separate time attack mode (sort of like Devil May Cry’s Bloody Palace) that was tacked on at the end to artificially lengthen the game, isn’t even that much of a slog if you pepper your progression of leveling through Viktor’s Tower with scouring the overworld for dungeons and items you may have missed the first time through, and that extra grinding will mean that you’re ready for anything the nefarious robotic gorilla (that’s a concept no one can hate) throws at you.
Mighty No. 9, just for failing to meet its initial lofty Kickstarter goals and taking so long to reach its faithful backers, may have deserved at least some of the vitriolic reaction it received. ReCore on the other hand, is absolutely a great game, and it’s shortcomings are nothing more than symptoms of the current state of the video game industry at large. It may take another price cut or eventually being free or close to it through Xbox Live Gold, but I’m confident that those who give the game a fresh chance (whether they be complete neophytes or those turned off by the game’s initial technical snafus) will find a lot to like in its killbot strewn desert planetscape.
Keiji Inafune may still be persona non grata to the majority of the general gaming populace, but he’s at least redeemed himself in the eyes this grizzled old Megan Man fan. Just like the iconic Millennium Falcon that Joule’s inspiration inherits in the aforementioned Episode 7, ReCore may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts.