This arcade-based shooter will demand much of your skills and your attention, but it's so frustrating and difficult that only players looking for a serious challenge will apply. Some games have deep stories with wild plot twists, a diverse cast of characters, and a focus on thinking before you act. And then there are games where you just pull the trigger and blow things up. Rive unashamedly falls into the latter category. This is a classic, arcade shoot-'em-up (also called "shmup"), where fast reflexes and an itchy trigger finger rule the day and the only "strategy" you need is memorizing the patterns of the enemies in your way. Rive looks and sounds fantastic, never faltering for even a second regardless of how much is happening on the screen at any given time. And make no mistake about it, there's always something happening on the screen. That's Rive's greatest strength and its biggest weakness. On the one hand, it's a symphony of bullets, explosions, destruction, and robotic carnage. On the other, it's an exasperating exercise in frustration.
Shmup games, by their nature, tend to challenge players with higher difficulty, but Rive cranks its difficulty up to 11. You know you're in trouble when the default difficulty setting is called "Hard Mode." This is challenging enough, with the learning curve swooping up at an insane pace, but for the more die-hard gamer, Rive also includes modes for Speed Run (racing the clock to complete stages as quickly as possible) and Single Credit (getting as far as possible in the game with a single life). Die too often and the game openly mocks you by offering up a "Soft Mode" with more powerful weapons and weaker enemies, in exchange for a 50 percent cut in your overall score. Thankfully, you can switch back at any time, so it can pay off to go the easy route on occasion, if for no other reason than to keep from ripping your hair out. Of course, sometimes the frustration has nothing to do with the game's difficulty. For instance, some checkpoints are set immediately where you blow up, resulting in you starting over at that spot, only to die again immediately. This can force you to perform a full game reset if you get trapped into this kind of irretrievable loop. For some, this might just represent an extra challenge, but for most, it's more like an exercise in masochism.