The whole idea of a shmup is to avoid an onslaught of bullets, but what would one look like where you want the player to do the opposite and fly straight at them? In Risk System, you almost need to do exactly that, throwing caution to the wind by getting as close you can to the projectiles – without dying – and charging your weapons in the process.
It’s a great – but slightly terrifying – system that excels by being as simple as possible without an overcomplicated interface and set of upgrades. Your abilities, for example, extend to a barrel roll, your gun and an attacking/defensive move called a ‘barrier breaker’ – that’s it, and it’s this efficient focus and requirement for precision that makes this a wave worth riding.
It is possible to progress through the levels without attempting near-misses left, right and center, but your weapon boosts make things ‘easier’ as you can make quick work of smaller enemies.
Each level has its own memorable moments but it’s the boss battles where the game comes alive with the use of the ‘barrier breaker’ which acts as both a weapon and a burst defense. During a level, it can be used to wipe the screen of enemies and top-up your health, but during boss fights, it’s used as a defensive wave against different laser attacks. The best part of this feature and the boss fights themselves, is that you have to use said attacks to charge your move by edging as close to the lasers as possible to initiate the charge, which is hardly a walk in the park considering they’ve just been shot at you. It’s integrated excellently into the boss’s arsenal and makes the set pieces stand out even more.
It’s as hard as it sounds and with a one size fits all difficulty level you might be wondering why it couldn’t have been made a little easier, but thankfully your progress is saved at each stage, so you can take solace in the fact that you won’t lose your progress even if you are redoing the levels countless times. I’d also say that despite being a big believer of accessibility in video games, the difficulty level for the game is perfect as the requirement that the player is on the edge during its most tense moments, and if it were any easier, it feels like the game would unravel.
While the game plays great, it also looks a treat with its 2D animation a joy in which to embrace the mayhem. It conveys an excellent sense of speed and chaos as explosions shake the screen and the understated soundtrack provides a foreboding tension for the surprisingly intriguing story.
Playing out with animated headshots and voice-acting the narrative has you up against an alien parasite that’s controlling your previous squad members – which you then have to kill – and it adds a dark tone to the standard score-chasing shmup, making you wish that the title just be that bit longer and the story more fleshed out. The narrative even changes based on how successful you are in each stage, although to be fair in my case, there’s little hope in seeing too many different ones.
In fact, the only thing you could really grumble about here is Risk System’s length, but even upon learning that there are only 6 stages and a potential speedrun of 30mins, the difficulty is such that it provides longevity and few will be polishing this off in the first few hours.
There are only so many ways to reinvent the wheel in the shmup genre, but Risk System’s gameplay mechanic is certainly one way to do it, creating a thrilling action title that every side-scrolling fan will enjoy. It might have been available on other systems for some time, but considering its content and the price there is enough value on offer here to justify giving it a shot.