Platforms: Nintendo Switch (reviewed)
Release: 14th December 2017 (NA)
I don´t know how exactly I felt when I first saw RXN -Raijin- popping up at the Switch eShop. On the one hand I was super happy to see another Shoot´em Up and a Switch exclusive at the same time. On the other hand, well, I´ve never heard of it, pretty strange for a 40 dollar game to have literally almost zero promotion. So I just had to check it out and was pleasantly surprised of how good it actually is.
First of all RXN -Raijin- isn´t a classic arcade Shoot´em Up like Nex Machina, where all stages can be completed in less than an hour and the only goal is replaying them to get a higher score. The game offers around 50 tiny stages, normally taking around 2-4 minutes each, infused with a little storyline. At some points there are even little alternative ways with their own levels. The levels are more ment to be replayed by themselves instead of together in a single playhtrough.
Unfortunately, the story, which isn´t only advertised but told by numerous fully voiced dialogues during the stages, is unsurprisingly lackluster. Due to the fact the only story telling happens throughout the action and is only voiced in japanese, following the subtitles in the upper right corner, while trying not to die, is a challenge by itself, often leading to me simply forgetting about them. Yet, when I replayed the campaign to read all of them, I still didn´t understand most of it.
Apparently RXN´s are some kind of biological robots,there´s a white-haired evil guy, aiming to destroy them (or the world?) and the aliens seem to be controlled by him or something like that. Honestly, I don´t really have an idea of what´s going because of the awfully cryptic, short writing. Surely a plot is probably the least important thing for a Shmup but why go through all the trouble to voice and write dialogues, when it doesn´t lead anywhere? The whole story feels like a huge, unnecessary waste of money and time.
Another very interesting aspect is the quite unordinary gameplay mechanics. Able to choose between three characters, each of them is equipped with three different weapons and tiny movement speed tweaks. One RXN has a lot mass controlling weapons, another is faster but deals less damage. At the same time the three individual guns also come with their own use cases, mainly divided into mass control, close combat and focus fire. Naturally, they look and work different for everyone, customized for their playstyles.
Learning the different use cases and unique quirks is a core element of RXN -Raijin-´s gameplay. For example, a weapon that shoots bullets and side rocket barrages at the same time isn´t effective if the enemies are too close since the rockets will simply fly past them, making the weapon way less effective. Other weapons consist of tiny ships following the RXN, only shooting in the direction it previously moved, forcing you to think how to move and use them in the most effective way, since their fire can easily go in a totally different direction. Additionally, every RXN comes with the ability to destroy all bullets on the screen and damaging every enemy at the same time, in exchange for one-third of the health, making it somewhat of a strong but difficult to use attack. If activated at the wrong time, it could cost you your life, instead of saving you.
In combination with classic japanese Shmup mechanics, like the dozens of enemies on-screen and their hundreds of bullets, RXN -Raijin- can offer a very tactical experience, it´s not only about surviving but about deciding which weapon to use and how to position yourself to get the most out of it. If done correct, every kill improves the equipped weapon, rewarding you for effectively killing enemies. Especially later on, the constant stream of rewards, kills, enemies and short fights, delivers a great sense of action, while pumping adrenaline through your body.
Nonetheless RXN -Raijin- isn´t a hard Shmup, by all means, it´s one of the most forgiving ones I´ve played so far. The obvious reasons are the huge health gauge, easily able to take more than a few hits, which even regenerates over time. Compared to other games of this genre I found the health bar surprisingly big and having it regenerate simply by itself is a strange but welcome addition to ease the difficulty. Something a bit more hidden are the very little hitboxes for the individual bullets, at least from what I´ve seen.
When a bullet should definitely hit the plane or touches it lightly, I noticed how only in the most extreme cases they actually hit. Normally, as long as only a tiny friction of it touches the RXN, bullets will simply fly by. So I´m pretty sure the hitboxes of the bullets are a bit tinier than their models, making it possible to dodge in most cases, while feeling like an absolute Shmup ace. For a game obviously aiming for more casual players, forgiving tiny mistakes like this is a great way to make impossible maneuvers possible.
Despite these neat mechanics, RXN -Raijin- is by far not a flawless game, suffering heavily from its leveling system, an idea done so much better in so many other games. To level-up every RXN it´s necessary to earn experience by shooting enemies and killing them, remember this, it´s a crucial point. The more a character is played, the stronger it gets in terms of damage, at least how I think it works. With the character slowly becoming stronger, the stages grow too, but not dependant from the character.
As a result, switching RXNs between missions later on gets increasingly difficult, since the others won´t have the required damage output to effectively kill the enemies, if you don´t replay any missions. Basically, you either use only one or grind the levels for others, especially bad considering that some levels are clearly designed in favor for other characters. I wished levels would only unlock something like skins or other optional stuff, instead of forcing the player to grind, while taking away a huge sense of reward, when a level 1 RXN needs hours to kill enemies towards later levels. The whole system is so contrary to the basic design, I can´t understand who thought implementing some kind of grinding element would be a good idea.
Naturally for most japanese games, RXN -Raijin- also suffers from some significant performance problems, a huge problem for a Shmup. Gulti delivered a sometimes really epic game with tons of enemies on-screen, in front of often pretty good-looking environments, sadly, the Switch or optimisation can´t keep up in most cases, letting the frame rate drop under the 20s, rendering the game in an almost slow-motion like state, destroying any fast-paced action. It´s not a super beautiful game to begin with, seemingly mixing uninspired design with interesting artistic visions but due to the heavy technical problems, particularly later on when nearly the whole screen is filled with enemies, the epicness quickly backfires at the game.
I didn´t expect much from RXN -Raijin-, given its little promotion and uninspired looking screenshots but behind these prejudices is an actual pretty good game. Taking the classic Shmup formula and adding new tactical systems to it, like the three different weapons and necessity of strategical thinking, is a great idea combined with the short missions perfect for portable gaming. If not for the grinding and regular horrible performance, I might have considered recommending it for its huge asking price. Yet, currently, paying 40 bucks should only be an option if you´re in really desperate need for a Shmup on your Switch. Waiting for a price drop to 20 bucks is the way to go in this case.
[A Review Code was provided by Kayac]