Release date: September 13th, 2016
Platforms: Xbox One (reviewed) and PC
In the modern age of games, the non-indie segment of the gaming industry generally follows very strict formulas for any game that gets a budget above indie level, and most of these formulas are ones that became popular in the last 10 years or so (like first-person shooters, tower defense games, and many others.)
Many of the games made in the era of around 1995 to 2005 had a style that was distinct to this early age of 3D gaming, where developers were trying to adapt older gaming mechanics from the 2D era into 3D for the first time, and this resulted in tons of unique and charming 3D platforming games. Once this era ended, the frequency of this style of game started to slowly fade as well, as the new types of games took over.
Now, in 2016 we have a game that calls back to this distinct style of game, called ReCore. ReCore is developed by an all-star cast of developers from this era, including Keiji Inafune, of MegaMan fame as well as the teams that made the Metroid Prime games. The result is a visually modern game that brings back all the charm and feel of these old games.
The story of ReCore involves a girl from Earth named Joule who was sent to a distant planet called Far Eden after a destructive plague hit Earth, and she worked with a team of scientists, including her father, to put in place a terraforming system to make a distant planet inhabitable for the people who needed to leave Earth. Joule was put into a cryogenic sleep for almost 200 years while traveling to Far Eden, and when she wakes up, things have gone wrong with the project and she is determined to find out why. The story is written by industry veteran Joseph Staten, who wrote the Halo series and is a New York Times Bestseller author for the novels he wrote.
The overworld of Far Eden is mostly desert, but there are many structures and other areas on the planet, such as underground mines and facilities that can be explored as fully-fledged dungeons. This makes the overall structure of the game feel very similar to the 3D Legend of Zelda games (Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess, etc.) in the best possible way. It features all the great overworld exploration, underground mini-dungeons, item collection, lock-on combat, puzzle solving, and everything else you know and love from the Zelda games, but better than just being a Zelda clone, ReCore also adds some modern upgrades to the formula, as well as the tight and complex platforming, where Zelda rarely ever even had a jump function.
Joule flies high and travels far with her jet-propelled boots, which allow her to double-jump as well as air dash, making for a lot of exhilarating and fun platforming. The platforming can get challenging at times, with some of the traversals being a very close call and requiring precise timing to get where you need to go. There’s also the addition of a very clearly visible crosshair marker that shows where you will land at any moment, which is something that 3D platformers have needed for a very long time, and it makes the platforming so much more enjoyable as a result.
The combat in ReCore is fun, addicting, and tactical, with a lock-on system similar to the 3D Zelda games, plus the great addition of a few major elements, starting with your rifle, which has four different colors you can switch between, and each enemy you encounter also has a color it’s associated with. When you match your gun to the color of the enemy, you do extra damage and it has extra stopping power. Some enemies can even change color during the fight, making you have to adjust on-the-fly, while also jumping, dashing, and maneuvering to avoid their attacks.
Once you whittle down an enemy’s health lower than about 25%, you also have the option to initiate a quick-kill attack, where you remove the power core from the enemy, which triggers a short mini-game of core removal each time you activate it. This mini-game can be interrupted by other nearby enemies as well and you can fail the mini-game by not doing it well, which adds yet another layer of strategy to the combat. Depending whether you choose to destroy an enemy normally or by removing the core, it causes the enemy to drop different kinds of items, which adds a lot to the RPG elements featured here.
The RPG elements come in many different shapes and sizes in ReCore, from the customization and leveling of Joule and her Corebots to manually choosing where to apply upgrade points for your bot companions. There are three different Corebots in the game, which each have their own personality and fighting styles. You can transplant the core (and personality) of each one into different bodies, also giving the different abilities in combat and for terrain traversal or reaching new areas.
The sound design for ReCore is extremely well-done, with the music score hitting all the right notes at the right times and the sound during combat booming from your speakers to making you feel powerful, all the way down to the ambiance, be it the technological hum in the robot-infested dungeons or the calm of the desert breeze on the overworld. The visual department hits all the right notes as well, with the environments being colorful, beautiful, and fun to be immersed in.
One of the only potentially negative points to speak of in ReCore is the way the story is handled later in the game. The story missions progress very fluidly up until just a few missions before the end, then there’s a little extra grinding or exploration needed to open up the last few missions, which breaks the flow of the story just a little bit, but since the exploration is so fun, this doesn’t feel like a chore, and there are plenty of other games that do this same thing nowadays, so how much this matters will all be up to your personal preference.
The most unfortunate part is how little story there really is overall, since the story is very well-written and well-told, but it seems to end too quickly, and I would have loved to see so much more of the world and the characters they’ve created. Much of your play-through of the main story consists of pure gameplay, with just a few short story cutscenes and radio conversations sprinkled around your missions. Despite this, the main story will take you 15-20 hours to finish, but finding all the extra dungeons and items in the game will easily take you upwards of 40 to 50 hours or more, so there’s no lack of content in this package by any means.
Other than these few points, ReCore brings back everything I love about the 3D platformers of yesteryear, mixes them with some great modernizations to make the game look and feel better, and gives a breath of fresh air to modern gaming which I’ve missed for many years now. As an added bonus, the game is part of Microsoft’s “Play Anywhere” program, so if you buy a digital copy of the game for either PC or Xbox One, the game is playable on both platforms with just one purchase, and the game is only $40 to begin with; a value which I can’t overstate.
For any fans of 3D platforming games from a previous era or lovers of the types of games described here, you won’t want to pass up ReCore. It’s available now at retail and on the Microsoft Store.