It’s quite a strange thing to have played a fair bit of Risk of Rain 2 and then go back to the original – or at least to the HD remaster of the original. And I say “go back”, but I never played the original at all, and so Risk of Rain Returns is my first experience with Hopoo’s side-scrolling roguelite. As such, my biggest surprise was how eerily similar the two games are, despite vastly different styles.
After crashing your ship on an alien planet, your Survivor must go out and seek teleporters to new areas in an effort to find enough of the craft to get it Space-worthy again. Initially you can only choose from the Commando and Huntress, but you’ll eventually unlock another 13, all with different weapons, stats, and abilities. It being one of my favourite classes in the second game, I stuck with old favourite Commando at first, whose skills and stats make him a decent starting choice. When I was able to spent a long time with the Enforcer.
The main conceit of Risk of Rain Returns is that every second you’re out in the world, the difficulty is increasing. You’ll hit certain milestones whereupon enemies will increase in health and number, and you’ll deal with more and more dangerous foes. Activating a teleporter will usually trigger a boss fight and a swarm of enemies that make it hard to stay alive.
While the graphics and animations are smoother in the remaster, you still can’t aim in all the compass directions. You’ll need to jump to shoot flying enemies or wait until they get to your level. Likewise you can’t shoot from ladders or ropes, and must climb up or down to free your gun arm. You can shoot while retreating though, which is often vital.
You collect coins as you play from every slain enemy which you then use to purchase power ups such as increased speed and damage. As with many roguelites, success in a given run often relies directly on which power ups you manage to get. Skill plays a major part, of course, but you can easily fail a run when a boss squashed you because you’re underprepared. Or worse, the difficulty ramps up so much while you search fruitlessly for a teleporter that you get overwhelmed.
There’s a ridiculous amount of biomes, enemies and bosses to fight off, and defeating specific bosses as they mooch around the biomes is a good way to unlock new survivors. You won’t get bored, is the operative point here, as there’s just too much variety in every run – and if you’re lucky enough to conjure a perfect storm of power-ups, bosses, and environments it feels like Christmas has come early. It was the progenitor for a lot of modern roguelites where meta-progression off-sets most of the frustration.
It looks bloody good, too, for what it is. Risk of Rain Returns is a HD version of the original, and on Steam Deck it’s all pin-sharp pixels, which makes navigating the platforms and traps much easier. You will still die an awful lot, though, not least because you don’t know if a drop will kill you until you jump off it. But maybe that’s all part of the fun and having a run end because you ran screaming from an alien horde and leapt valiantly to your death is at least something to tell the grandkids one day.
Perhaps one of the most interesting things about Risk of Rain Returns is that it doesn’t feel like the port of a decade-old game. It feels super modern because so many modern games are still aping it. It has its annoying limitations, for sure, a few irritating mechanics that newer games have learned to live without and which Hopoo would have done well to remove in the remaster-blaster. But despite that, Risk of Rain Returns an incredibly playable side-scroller that will absolutely appeal to fans of the genre or the franchise.
Smooth, fast-paced gameplay
Tons of variety
No real tweaks to gameplay
Relies heavily on chance