In life, nothing is certain other than death and taxes. Over in the world of video games, you can always bank on yearly Call of Duty titles and annual sports sims from Activision and EA, along with regular inexpensive 2D shoot’em ups from indie specialists eastasiasoft. RedRaptor is their latest, being a vertical affair with a permanent upgrade system and pixel art intended to evoke the ‘90s. We guess developer Novax was going for a mixture of SNES and PC Engine aesthetics, but the curious absence of detail and bold colour palette recalls 8-bit shooters too, specifically Power Strike. Power Strike II launched in 1993, so it’s all good.
The typically paper-thin plot sees Raptor 1 out to overthrow a syndicate known as L.A.W, battling their giant Gundam-esque mechs and repurposed weaponised mining rigs, along with traditional fare such as large garishly coloured spacecraft. Five stages feature in total, each lasting just a few minutes. This doesn’t mean RedRaptor can be finished in almost no time at all, however. Raptor 1 starts out noticeably weak, with pea-shooter-style weaponry and a minuscule health bar. You may even struggle to beat the first stage initially, with only a searing laser – which, peculiarly, triggers large screen obscuring text when activated – to help even the odds.
Upon death, you’re given the choice to restart from the first stage or return to the main menu – there are no continues. And yes, this means you’re going to be playing through the first couple of stages a lot. It’s a shame the first stage didn’t have a few secrets or alternate paths to discover.
The key to victory is to invest in permanent upgrades, with each ‘run’ bestowing enough gold to purchase at least one. The health bar can be extended ten times over, the laser made longer lasting, and the ship’s attack power increased. ‘Helper’ drones can be added too, and if you’re up for a gamble, a chunk of your coinage can be spent on doubling acquired gold on the next run. If you’re able to make it far, this can be quite lucrative, reducing some of the grind.
I was able to see the ending screen after around two hours, having splurged on around 60-70% of the upgrades available. I found it more beneficial to invest in health than increased attack power. Indeed, this set-up allows for a degree of flexibility – if you consider yourself a genre expert, you may be able to see the ending with less than half the upgrades. Newcomers, meanwhile, can simply keep upgrading until they become so powerful that most enemies take no more than one or two shots.
The difficulty level is reasonably well balanced. Not perfect, but it’s clear RedRaptor has been playtested and tinkered with to ensure each level has its fair share of challenges. While short, every stage has a trickier section to overcome – such as a missile barrage or a slow-moving wavy bullet formation – that can take practice to avoid without taking a hit. Bosses have easily readable attack patterns too, and over time you’ll notice that certain enemies drop vital shield and health pick-ups. Defeating smaller enemies during a boss battle, for instance, can see a health token appear. Shields are near essential to collect, as they can withstand 5-6 hits before depleting.
Weapon pick-ups regularly appear too, including a spread shot and additional rockets. The scope for experimentation here is pretty low though, which isn’t much of a surprise considering the limited pool. The spread shot can make some of the trickier sections easier, and that’s about it. As for the laser, which recharges slowly, you’re best off simply saving it for a boss battle.
RedRaptor stumbles in a few other areas. Enemies regularly emerge from behind without warning, and while bullets are easy to see and avoid – with standard bullets being yellow and purple bullets having homing properties – gold is a similar shade of yellow. It’s automatically collected, almost as if Raptor 1 carries a colossal magnet, but there were occasions where incoming fire was mistaken for gold. Stage two has quite a busy background, obscuring smaller enemies, and I also found the ‘pew pew’ of the main weapon a little high-pitched, drowning out the music. I hoped to quieten it down in the menu, but the options are limited to either turning music or sound effects on or off. And so, I ended up playing through the whole thing without sound effects. The graphics settings are limited too, simply being a CRT filter toggle.
Despite shortcomings with its general presentation, RedRaptor is a competent mixture of ideas new and old. It’s quite challenging, relying heavily on learning attack patterns and memorising health/shield token drop locations, and the lack of continues means that it’ll take a couple of hours to master and beat. The permanent upgrades meanwhile, help it to feel modern – potentially, everyone should be able to beat it eventually. An unlockable arcade mode and online leaderboards help give it replay value, but due to its lack of nuances and scope for experimentation, it’s likely it won’t grip for long. At £4.99 it’s a decent enough budget buy, but not one that’s essential – even for genre diehards.
Novax’s RedRaptor is out October 11th on PC, Xbox, and Switch. Published by eastasiasoft.