Written by Maurice Collum.
Indie games are somewhat of a mixed bag for me. On occasions, they can be a rare gem, but the majority of the time they are a reject PlayStation Plus offering no one asked for. Blue Rider isn’t top rank of its fleet, but it does enough to survive.
Blue Rider is a top-down, twin stick shooter in the simplest terms. It lacks any real premise or instruction, leaving it all for the player to figure out. Upon starting the first stage, you are warped into an unspecified location with only your instinct telling you to press forward and shoot anything that moves. It’s this instinct which will serve as your guide throughout the nine stages.
Each stage consists of varying enemy robots, from grunts to vehicles, and a boss battle at the end to cap it off. Power ups are scattered throughout to help strengthen your offence, and relics to collect serve only to increase your score. In true arcade fashion, the scoring system and power ups are key to your success.
You begin with a single life but can gain more by reaching undefined scoring targets. This is where the rampage meter (or multiplier) comes into effect. Each kill increases the meter and filling the meter will increase the multiplier, to a maximum of 10. It’s this system that determines the pace of the game. Your accumulative score is recorded throughout and your highest score is presented to you on the main menu. This is for your benefit alone as there is no online leaderboard or way to compare with your friends. Not exactly an incentive to improve on my score.
To avoid being overwhelmed by enemies while learning the basics, I took things slow, picking off enemies one by one before proceeding to the next area. It didn’t take long to realise I would be punished for playing this way. The game is intended to be completed on a single play-through and at speed. To do this, you will need to embrace the rampage meter to earn extra lives. The meter depletes while you aren’t killing, and regardless of what level of multiplier you are on, the rampage level reverts to zero should it ever deplete entirely, so it’s best to keep a close eye on it at all times.
Weapon power ups are crucial. You start with a primary infinite laser, and a secondary rocket barrage. Rockets can be replenished by random enemy drops. There are two primary and two secondary weapon types, and the combination you fight with is up to you. Primary consists of direct or spread lasers, and regular or homing rockets. Weapons are upgraded by collecting matching colour power ups, and swapped by collecting the alternate colour. My advice, choose your weapon early and upgrade it at every opportunity. This allows swift navigation through each stage, and reduces the challenge of bosses.
Boss encounters are the most enjoyable aspect of Blue Rider, being that they offer variety to the rinse and repeat level design. Each boss requires a different strategy, changing their attack as you wear them down, either by introducing another weapon or spamming bullets. Combine this with being locked in limited space arenas and it keeps the tension high. Your accuracy and manoeuvring abilities will be tested. Thankfully, the controls are tight and responsive allowing you to weave between a barrage of bullets while returning fire with ease.
This leads me to my list of flaws. I understand the need to earn lives through skilful play, but I disagree with the punishment for death. There are no checkpoints so you’re forced to restart the level with default and downgraded weaponry. So if you perfect your skills using direct fire and homing missiles, then be prepared to search for replacement power ups while dealing with strong enemies using weaker weaponry. From time to time, a message will appear between missions stating “To become stronger, start from stage one”. The game is essentially taunting you that the only way to complete it is to drag yourself through the early stages to earn your powered-up weapons or continue to die trying.
To be honest that does seem the only approach to beating this game. As levels only take five to ten minutes to complete, providing you are speed running, it isn’t exactly an endless slog, but it is frustrating doing it for the fifth time or more. Not only that, the difficulty ramps up on stage eight when exposed lava constantly damages your ship after rocks beneath you sink – you have to keep moving forward and are punished for retracing your steps.
Graphically the game is lacking for a next gen console. The quirky cartoon style helps keep things colourful but reminds me of older games like Jak & Daxter, and how good they looked two generations ago. Enemies explode in satisfying fashion though. Perhaps Blue Rider would have been better suited to the PlayStation Vita.
Sound design is questionable. Enemy bullets look and sound like bubbles, and the cyberpunk soundtrack seems misplaced but occasionally hits the right notes. There’s no option to adjust or mute sound levels, and Spotify can only mask it to a degree.
My time with Blue Rider was mixed with fun and frustration, but I became determined to stick with it after the occasional breather. The key to great indie games for me is either being unique or offering an exciting twist to a genre. As it stands, Blue Rider is a fun but stale entry into a genre with a plethora of exciting games. However, at its £11.99 asking price, you could do a lot worse. Perhaps if it was half the price and released on the Vita instead, I could recommend it more. The single playthrough design and difficulty spikes prevent Blue Rider from scoring higher.
- Tight and responsive controls
- Addictive when it isn’t frustrating
- Boss encounters offer variety to stale gameplay
- Single playthrough design
- Primitive graphics and levels
- Frustrating punishments and difficulty spikes
Written by Maurice Collum.