Shoot-em-ups come in all manner of wonderfully varied forms. It doesn’t matter whether a game is cute, a parody, hellish, futuristic, horizontal or vertical – they all fall under the same all-encompassing banner. There is one kind of Shmup that manages to earn its own title, though. One that often gets dismissed. Of course, I am talking about the Euroshmup – or Satan’s pass-time as it is occasionally referred to as. Risk System falls into that category, but does it deserve to be labelled as such?
Not All Euroshmups Are Bad
After all, not all Japanese Shmups are good, and not all Euroshmups are bad. Heck, there are some pretty damn good ones. Games such as Rigid Force and Sturmwind break this mould with great efficacy, for example. But does Risk System manage to do the same? Unfortunately, no. Risk System hits every rung of the Euro-ladder as it descends deeper and deeper into the realms of damnation. It’s not without its upsides, however.
There is an underlying story to the Risk System’s proceedings, and as far as Shmup stories go, this one is at least interesting enough to dress the setting nicely. Evil whats-its are controlling people and it’s up to you to save the day. That day can only be saved by killing your friends along the way, but that just adds to the drama. A much-appreciated feature is that you can turn it off.
Risk System’s core combat is surprisingly accessible at first glance. The game utilises an auto-fire system by default, meaning all you have to do is move into position and let the game fire away for you. This can be turned off in the options, but as far as mechanics go, this one works well. Combat is also very flashy with a satisfying amount of screen shake and attractively sparkly bullets and explosions that helped butter up the ol’ flesh processor.
Graze Like A Cow
It’s not all simplicity and rainbows. Risk System also utilises a graze mechanic that encourages/forces you to engage in risky behaviour if you want to see the end credits. Positioning your craft near oncoming bullets, lasers, or any hazardous energy mass will cause your ship to emit a small field that converts that danger into beneficial resources. The most immediate is a temporary increase in standard shot damage, allowing you to kill the source of the thing you just brushed up against much quicker. It also fills your Barrier Breaker gauge that acts like a screen-nuking bomb – oh and it grants temporary invulnerability.
As far as mechanics go, that’s about it. You have a vertical dodge roll of sorts that helps you move around the play-space, but other than that? Risk System is pretty darn simple. Stages throw wave after wave of enemies at you, and it’s your job to float up and down the screen and unleash hot plasma on whatever pops up – ideally breaking social distancing rules along the way. Get to the end, and you even unlock a challenge tower called the Tropheum, giving Risk System a fair amount of content to work through.
The thing that kills Risk System is its underlying design philosophy and control methodology. Risk System is a game that demands memorisation through the use of trial and error gameplay. This is especially true when fighting bosses who have impossible to predict attack patterns. Dying in Risk System isn’t optional, and it isn’t due to a lack of skill. It’s entirely because you didn’t know what cheese was being sprinkled over your lunch.
It Feels Cheap
This not only makes Risk System feel cheap, punishing and a tad irritating, but it also gives it an unnatural difficulty curve. Later stages and practically all bosses will murder you over, and over again – until they don’t. Once you’ve cracked the code, the game falls apart. Bosses in particular become tiresome bullet sponges who pose little-to-no threat. There is a fine line between fair challenge and unga-bunga bonce clubbing, and Risk System crosses that line, and then some.
That’s not all though, as Risk System commits another game-breaking sin. Risk System has inertia. Inertia in Shmups almost exclusively exists in Euroshmups. What inertia does to a game is akin to taking it out back and quietly garroting the poor sod until everything good about the game crumbles into dust. The trial and error gameplay, which was bad enough, is elevated to new, never before seen levels of tedium when the craft you are trying to control makes a tortoise look like a hare. Getting out of the way of danger becomes practically impossible if you don’t know where to be in advance. Sluggish controls make cheap deaths feel even cheaper.
Risk System knows its controls aren’t up to snuff because it showers you with health pickups to make up for the constant, not-quite-unavoidable damage you will be taking. Your ship can take 3 hits before it dies, but the screen is almost constantly filled with health drops that vacuum towards you at all times. More often than not, at least in the early game, I felt like I was brute-forcing my way through stages, which was never fulfilling. They drop this system during boss fights, however, which means you can only make 3 mistakes before you need to restart the whole fight again. Did I mention these bosses were rather spongey? They are rather spongey.
Pretty Good Looking
At least the game looks pretty. For all of my gribbles and gripes, Risk System nails a hyper-clean pixel art style that I instantly fell in love with. Enemy designs are varied, backgrounds rapidly scroll but look fantastic, and the flappy-mouthed character models convey an impressive amount of personality. The game even runs well, with Switch performance holding up even when things get busy. A special mention goes to the grazing effect which immediately lets you know when you are close enough to danger, as well as the fancy lighting that emanates from the various particles littering the screen.
Risk System’s sound design is top-notch too. Whilst the music is fitting – if forgettable – the sound effects are where the gold lies. The game has excellent audio-visual feedback, so you know when you are crunching through an enemy’s hull, and you can tell when you are about to max your Barrier Breaker. It may be flawed mechanically, but when it hits right, it hits hard.
Despite all of this visual flair and audio magic, it can all get in the way. All attacks have a fancy glow to them which distorts their hitbox quite substantially. In a game about scratching your back with the help of enemy ordinance, not knowing where the danger is kind of gets in the way. More often than I can feasibly count, I was blindsided by an attack that didn’t feel like it should have hit me. This is just another ball that was dropped during development.
Risk System is the pain in the rump. It does a lot of things right, but those things are undermined by poor game design, inconsistent difficulty, a cheap gameplay loop and inertia. A tighter, more responsive control scheme alone would fix a lot of the game’s core issues. Unfortunately, in its current state, the game is too tedious to recommend.