Expectations are a funny thing. As an example, if you told me that the minds who brought us Megaman, Onimusha and Dead Rising was working with the some of the key talent behind Metroid Prime on a new game, I’d be pretty excited and ReCore is that game.
ReCore takes place sometime in the future. Earth has been ravaged by a disease called Dust Devil, and forced many of its inhabitants into space. You play as Joule, who wakes to find that most of the Corebots have gone rogue, Far Eden is far from habitable and that other human colonists are nowhere to be found. You’ll have to join force with Mack, a loyal Corebot who somehow didn’t go rogue, to survive the harsh world against those that are against humans from living on it.
The story of ReCore is a pretty interesting concept with some intriguing mysteries but also fairly typical science fiction fare. Most players with some experience in the genre will be able to see where most of the characters’ arcs are going and will discover twists long before they are revealed if they think about it hard enough. Far Eden itself is a rather drab locale but rightly so given the story, and numerous audio logs give great backstory to the world. And despite this rather standard story, it does proide a good backing for Joule to explore Far Eden, even if the story takes an abrupt halt through the middle of the game which I’ll touch upon later.
ReCore is like a Frankenstein’s monster of a game. A mix of the best games from the golden age of platformers. It’s part Zelda, part Banjo-Kazooie, part Ratchet & Clank, part Metroid Prime. But it never really reaches the lofty heights and expectations that comes with being associated with those games. Far Eden is an open world which connects several dungeons. It has roaming enemies that you can take on or leave completely. There’s architectural landmarks that signify areas you’ll have to return to with upgrades. There’s floating platforms that you think you’ll never be able to traverse, only to do so hours later.
And while ReCore cherry picks the best things from these games, it also does its own thing too. While exploring, Joule has to defend herself from the numerous rogue Corebots that Far Eden throws at her. Her rifle can be outfitted with four different colours of ammo, each of which impart a particular status effect but also must be coordinated against enemies. Red ammo works against red enemies, and so on. Joule can also dash and double jump, so combining these fast and frenetic movement options with changing ammo mid battle against a flurry of enemies who can sometimes even change colours themselves leads to some pretty interesting battles.
The combat is fun but I can’t help but feel the colour coding could’ve been implemented a bit more appropriately to make it more critical. As long as you’re keeping up a constant stream of fire in one way or another, the game’s clever combo system will more than likely make short work of enemies for you. Changing colours does take down enemies quicker, for sure, but the difference sometimes does feel negligible. Your bots also each have a unique attack, which is dependent on what frame they’re sitting in, which is a nice touch. Some are great at controlling an area while others are better at dealing heavy damage to individual enemies. Corebots could’ve just been generic attacking AI partners, but giving them each different moves dependent on the core and frame is a nice touch.
Scattered throughout the world of Far Eden are various dungeons that Joule must navigate to collect Prismatic Cores. Prismatic Cores are more or less the game’s main collectible – think Jiggy’s from Banjo Kazooie or Golden Bananas in Donkey Kong. These are thrown throughout the open world and tucked behind combat challenges and are usually required to open up new areas. Each of the game’s dungeons are themed – some are combat orientated, others are platform orientated and some offer a mix of both. And while they’re called dungeons, they feel rather small when compared to other games of this ilk. Many lack the nuanced design that other games like Zelda or even Darksiders had and rarely amount to anything more than jumping some platforms, killing some enemies, and fighting a boss.
Speaking of enemies, ReCore’s budget clearly went towards gameplay and less so towards the enemy designs and presentation. Like Joule’s rifle and her robots, each of the enemies has a “core” associated with it. This denotes what it’s strong against and what it’s weak against. What this means, however, is that it’s not uncommon to come up against up to four enemies that looks exactly the same but are a different colour. Yes, they have different moves, but it’s still a little bit grating to see that every enemy in the game is a black (sometimes chrome) spiky looking robot.
I mentioned previously that the story of ReCore abruptly takes a halt about two thirds of the way through. While this might be more reflective of our playstyle, we entered an area and fought a boss in a very climactic battle. Following that, we were told we had to immediately climb a tower. Imagine our surprise when we got to the door of the tower and were told we didn’t have enough Prismatic Cores and Joule was not levelled up enough to progress. While the game does this for most of its dungeons, it was an incredible moment of poor pacing that really took us out of the game.
I soldiered through it, of course, but ReCore’s multiple dungeons scattered throughout the wide open area of Far Eden. This isn’t really a bad thing but it is a pet hate of mine to have main story content gated behind completion of side content. As dungeon after dungeon was cleared, we were earning what we needed to proceed but there was no main story being fleshed out, so the plight of Joule was put on hold. This is a situation where an open world design hindered the pacing of the story rather than helped it. Funnelling the player through two or three dungeons before getting to this bottleneck would’ve perhaps made ReCore feel a bit better paced.
There is a levelling system in play here which affects how powerful your bots and Joule’s rifle is, but they’re largely arbitrary systems. Perhaps more importantly is the crafting system which allows Joule to improve her bots powers and abilities using parts scavenged from Far Eden. Defeating enemies with weaponry drops parts, which upgrade the frames of the bots. Defeating enemies by removing their core garnets Joule energy to upgrade her robot cores to put in the frames, but destroys the enemy frames yielding no parts. What comes is an interesting interplay in how you finish off enemies and this provides an interesting dynamic in the crowd control of combat.
Without a doubt, ReCore’s weakest aspect is its presentation and all around production values. The game is easily one of the weaker looking exclusives in Microsoft’s portfolio, which is presumably reflected in the budget price. Far Eden is large, but largely empty and the locales while dilapidated still feel really dead. Joule herself looks pretty great, but there’s just not a lot of variety on offer here. Some of the environments do get a bit more visually exciting later on in the story, but most of the game is comprised of sandy rocks or rocky caves. If there’s one area I don’t necessarily value as much in a game that costs $49.95, it’s the visuals. But your mileage may vary – ReCore is one of lesser polished experiences, at least visually, on Xbox One.
When I first sat down with ReCore there was one burning question that I wanted to answer. Was it a budget game? Was the $49.95AU price point indicative of the game’s quality? For the most part, I’m inclined to answer no. The actual gameplay mechanics and underlying systems on offer here – from the crafting, to the tight platforming, to the combat – are all solid. This is a game built with a love of games like Banjo-Kazooie, Zelda and Metroid Prime in mind, taking the best bits and throwing them into an entirely new adventure.
But the sum is lesser than its parts and nothing ever quite reaches the high highs that these games that came before it did. Everything is still enjoyable, mind you, but there’s just something missing. Some extra polish, the little details, that keep ReCore from being an instant masterpiece of guaranteed success. To come back to my question, it’s obvious that most of ReCore’s budget went into perfecting the gameplay. But with that came a sacrifice. And that sacrifice was visual presentation and polish. ReCore is a game for those who yearn for an experience reminiscent of games from the fifth and sixth generation of console gaming – and in today’s gaming climate, I think that’s incredibly brave.
The Xbox One version of this game was primarily tested for the purpose of this review.