Ten years ago, back when roguelikes weren’t anywhere near the super popular genre they are today, a little project made by three people dropped called Risk of Rain, offering a fun roguelike experience you could play with friends or by yourself. Nowadays, Risk of Rain has grown to become a big franchise in the indie scene, but Hopoo Games has decided to return to its roots with a remake of the first game.
Risk of Rain Returns might come as a bit of a system shock to anyone familiar with the second game since it’s entirely in 2D without many of the amenities that the more popular Risk of Rain 2 has. It’s always a throwback to go back to older games, but the question is whether or not it still holds up to modern scrutiny, and given the goal was to bring this game seamlessly into 2023, I’ll be analyzing it through that lens.
This remake promises the original, intended Risk of Rain experience while also making changes to help the game design stand on its own two feet. In this review of Risk of Rain Returns for Indie Game Culture, I’ll review how well this remake brings this decade-old classic into the modern day.
Dichotomy of Developments
At its core, Risk of Rain Returns still plays exactly like the original but with a gleaming new coat of paint. You can deactivate all the new changes if you want to basically play the original, but the new changes are quite nice for what was already a pretty solid foundation. There’s just the teleporter, some items from Risk of Rain 2, and some minor changes that round out the gameplay.
The game is still the same, fundamentally. You walk around extensive areas, finding a random one each round; you kill enemies to get money, open chests for items using that money, and then use those items to power up and kill big bosses when you activate a teleporter to go to the next area, with the difficulty gradually increasing the longer you stick around.
Once you reach the fifth stage, you can either do another loop to get more items, the difficulty still increasing rapidly, or you can go straight to the final boss, Providence. It’s a fun gameplay loop, and it’ll still feel familiar if you’ve only played Risk of Rain 2. On top of that, though, there’s a fun challenge mode, 16 characters, 155 achievements, and multiplayer with up to four friends to keep you busy.
Overall, it is an incredibly satisfying gameplay loop with a ton of content to go through. There’s a reason this series has blown up in popularity, and it’s always fun to hop on Risk of Rain with friends, especially now that there’s a decent netcode that won’t immediately make you hate playing the game; you’ll have a fun time. There’s enough new stuff to make you return, but not so much that it’s a different game.
Progressing to Providence
Progression in Risk of Rain Returns feels slower than it should be. Maybe I’m just used to the third dimension at this point, but chests feel sparse, and everyone feels a bit slow, even someone like Loader with many movement abilities. It feels like I’m always rushing the teleporter whenever I get there, even if I’ve already spent 10 minutes on a stage.
Aside from that, I love how unlocks work in this game, especially compared to Risk of Rain 2. You still unlock new characters by doing achievements in regular runs with any character, but to get their alternate abilities, you must do Providence Trials. In this fun little challenge mode, you take on a difficult task using the new ability you’re unlocking.
There are some good and some bad, but the progression is generally alright. I wish Rainstorm in this game didn’t feel like Monsoon in Risk of Rain 2 sometimes, but otherwise, the curve of going from a limp idiot with a gun to a devourer of gods shooting missiles everywhere is still incredibly satisfying, and that’s still just as true for Risk of Rain Returns.
Pixels of Paradise
The completely revamped visuals may be the most significant, most noticeable change in Risk of Rain Returns. Every sprite has been completely redrawn, I believe, at double the resolution, and it’s some stunning sprite work. Compared to the original’s simplistic, occasionally janky sprite art, this is an easy win, but they went above and beyond.
Every in-game animation, usually capped out at about two frames in the original, has been made much smoother. This especially matters in an action game where you want to know exactly what you and your enemy are doing on screen. On top of that, the intro and ending have been done in stunning hand-drawn animation, and it’s incredible.
Everything from the UI elements to the tiny characters and the massive bosses have been completely overhauled and look incredible. Even if you’re tired of pixel art in indie games, this will still look stunning since it’s just high resolution enough to know they put thought into every pixel on the screen, all while committing to a consistent color palette, and that dedication and effort really shows.
Mastery of Music
If you expect a heavily reworked soundtrack since everything else was completely overhauled, you’ll probably be underwhelmed when you learn that this OST is not too different from the original. That’s fine, though; they’ve just elected to remaster the songs with better instruments and higher-quality samples rather than trying too hard to make it “better” and potentially tarnishing it.
Risk of Rain already had one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard, just slightly behind its sequel, in my opinion, but both are incredibly good. If you haven’t heard either soundtrack, do yourself and me a favor and listen to them immediately. On top of the incredible music, the sound design is super satisfying, every hit feels viscerally satisfying to land, and the strong attacks are sold with astonishing impact. This is an absolute masterclass for the ears. It’s true what they say, Chris doesn’t miss.
Story Through Silence
As with many roguelikes out there, Risk of Rain opts to have its story mainly in the background, and maybe I’m biased, but I prefer it that way. If I were trudging through constant cutscenes and dialogue on every run I do, that would make the runs far more repetitive and upsetting, but having the lore be told through collectibles and cutscenes that are only at the beginning and end is a far better approach.
That said, the story being told here is excellent. It’s about Providence, the bulwark of the weak, and his strained relationship with his brother Mithrix, who you’ll no doubt be familiar with if you’ve played the sequel. The tragic tale has mostly already unfolded, but building up Providence as this character harboring resentment for his power-hungry brother and taking care of lowly, sick creatures makes you feel almost bad for killing him, even if he did strand your crew on an alien planet. It’s a great story, and I love how it’s told.
Inconvenience of Issues
Technical issues, unfortunately, are quite prevalent, at least at launch. If you get enough items, they’ll still overlap and go offscreen, some achievements won’t unlock properly, people will randomly get disconnected in multiplayer, and you probably won’t aim where your mouse is (though they’ve said they’re fixing that one soon.)
There are also a few crashes I’ve heard of, though I haven’t run into any of those yet. Overall, this game has many minor issues that bother me; it’s nothing to ruin the experience or heavily impact it, but it’s still something I wish was better. It’s still perfectly playable, though, and they’ve been constantly updating the community on what they’re working on, so keep an eye out if something is bothering you a lot.
Returning and Replaying
Within 3 hours of playing, I’d already beaten Providence and finished my first run, yet I felt like I still had at least 30 more hours in me. Replay value is through the roof; from multiple difficulties with adjustable attack power for you and the enemies to artifacts that give you fun modifiers for each run, to all the different characters and stages, you’ll keep coming back.
Each character is so fun to learn, and especially once you’ve gotten all their alternates, you’ll feel motivated to do a few runs with each of them after getting through every Providence trial. This game has practically endless replayability, especially taking multiplayer into consideration, and getting better each run makes everything incredibly satisfying.
An Abundance of Alternatives
I can recommend a million indie roguelikes out there, so I’m pretty much gonna give into bias and suggest a few ones I think you’ll enjoy if you’re already looking into playing Risk of Rain Returns, especially those with a heavy combat focus, and a bonus for being 2D with aiming.
- Risk of Rain 2 is like the younger, more advanced, more popular, more attractive, and way cooler brother. It’s the same gameplay loop, but in the third dimension, and if you want to know how incredible that is, I put approximately 70 hours into it in the last month or so, mainly due to hyper fixation but also because it’s damn good.
- Dead Cells is another pure roguelike experience, focusing more on Melee combat than the gunplay that usually happens in Risk of Rain. Dead Cells features a crossover with Risk of Rain, having a Commando skin, and Huntress’ Laser Glaive, which is fantastic.
- Terraria is probably not one you’d expect me to choose. Still, it’s another 2D sidescrolling game with a combat focus that involves grabbing random items in various environments to power up for progressively more difficult enemies and bosses. Hence, it fits, and it’s great. It’s a bit more of a sandbox, but you can play it like a roguelike.
The Verdict – 8/10
Overall, for $15, this is an incredibly worthwhile package that is an easy recommendation for any Rougelike fan. After we see a few patches roll in to fix some of those technical issues (and maybe ease the progression), this is an easy 9/10 for me. Just let me aim with my mouse, and we’re all good.
I don’t feel like this game ever hits the massive highs that Risk of Rain 2 does, but it’s still quite a great time to come back to, and this is far and away the definitive way to play the original Risk of Rain. If a remake gives me no reason to like the original more, it’s a good remake in my book.
At its core, this is an incredibly fun roguelike that has only been dramatically improved by this remake. I’ve seen people say they found the original intolerable but have found a new favorite game with this remake, and honestly, I agree. It fixes almost every issue with the original Risk of Rain, and its few problems are pretty tolerable.
- Everything from the original (and more), remade from the ground up to be far better.
- Fun roguelike gameplay I feel like returning to for hours on end.
- One of the best soundtracks of any indie game I’ve ever played.
- Mild amount of jank, especially in the controls.
- Progression feels slow, and items are scarce.
- Slightly buggy, especially around multiplayer.
Questions and Answers
Question: What platforms is Risk of Rain Returns on?
Answer: Risk of Rain Returns is available only on Nintendo Switch and PC; no other console releases have been announced.
Question: What is Risk of Rain Returns?
Answer: Risk of Rain Returns is a remake of the first Risk of Rain game, with a bunch of new content all around, basically Risk of Rain 1.5.
Question: How much is Risk of Rain Returns?
Answer: Risk of Rain Returns has an MSRP of $15 but launched discounted to $12.
I played Risk of Rain Returns for about 15 hours, about 10 hours more than I needed to know it was great. I mainly played on PC, but it works great on the Steam Deck.
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