Those overwhelmed by Rive’s unapologetic difficulty can’t say they weren’t warned. From the game’s title, which means “to tear something apart violently,” to the start menu, which only offers you the option of a Hard Mode, or even the opening level, redolent of a steroidal Gradius, there’s rarely a moment in which the multidirectional machine gun mounted atop the protagonist’s Spidertank comes to rest. And should an underwater area temporarily disarm that tank, rest assured that enemy turrets can be hacked to provide additional firepower. There’s a reason Rive’s scavenging hero is named Roughshot, just as the carefully designed set pieces serve to justify the fact that you aren’t allowed to freely roam Galaxian Service Vessel #6.
What’s surprising is how well Two Tribes uses self-referential humor to keep players hooked into even the most masochistic of deathtraps in this hybrid shoot-’em-up/platformer. Checkpoints are frequent and the Game Over message keeps comically cycling between nostalgic pleas to “Insert Coin” or puns based on your method of death (“Kentucky Fried Pilot” if blown up, “What the Hell?” upon burning alive). These grim jokes serve to reassure players that Rive knows exactly what it’s emulating (“Cool, a rising lava level” and “That AI activated my auto-scroller somehow!”), and that each scenario, no matter how ludicrous, is beatable. In other words, surviving a horde of kamikaze planes and whirling blades while precariously dodging lasers from within a tiny gravity bubble suspended over spikes only seems impossible.