I thought I'd quickly finish Riddled Corpses EX, a retro pixel twin-stick shooter from a single Spanish developer (and converted to consoles by a single French developer!), and move to the next nice little indie game. Oh boy was I wrong! Not only did the game design force me to play it longer than I expected, its pureblooded arcade action was so addictive and fun that I just had to have that one more go at it. And another. And another...
A simple story tells us about scientists awakening an evil force from another dimension, giving birth to demons and zombies conquering the earth. A few resistance fighters take a stand against Erebus and his minions, with unexpected allies joining the cause along the way through six stages of frantic shooting action. Most of it sees our heroes walk over slowly scrolling battlefields, only stopping to deal with enemy waves. Stage three, though, is a fast and horizontally scrolling ride through a bridge. You start the game with a basic character whose abilities won’t carry you far. The idea is to farm gold (dropped by defeated monsters and blown up props) to buy better characters (mostly girls) and their upgrades to actually make progress in the game. Also helping are two collectible abilities, a time stop to freeze the swarming enemies for a while and a dynamite to clear the entire screen. These abilities can also be bought before entering each stage.
The name of the game is to grind gold at your heart’s content. Usually, a forced grind in a game required to perform better in it can be a chore but Riddled Corpses EX makes that rare exception. Since the game is built around the concept of repeating levels until you can conquer them, it hasn’t made it a tedious slog. The game is so easy to pick up and play that even a few minutes of play is worth every penny. While the game can be played solo, the couch co-op is a way to go. Especially later in the game when the enemy count becomes staggering, the odds can be really overwhelming for a single player. The baddies aren’t fast in their movements but boy do they come in numbers! The boss fights borrow bullet hell sensibilities, with the screen filling up from projectiles that has to be squirmed in-between, all the while right thumbstick pushed to the boss’s direction to keep on firing.
The story mode is the main attraction of the game, with cute little cutscenes between the stages. It can be started from any unlocked stage for each gold-grinding session, with later levels providing more profits. The arcade mode sees you trying to complete the game in a one go, as every unlocked character starts from level one and you have to collect power-ups to level them up. There’s no gold to collect so the arcade mode is no use in grinding for success, only to better a score to get somewhere in the global leaderboard. The survival has a leaderboard too. It’s an infinite mode over a single screen with continuous enemy waves. Characters are at their current story levels and gold can be collected for the overall cause.
The gameplay hook is simple but ingenious. You have to deal with the basic Jon, who has no special abilities at all until you can afford the next character, Chloe. Her ability is a magnet that sucks gold into your position so you don’t have to dare the horde to pick up the dropped gold items. Then you keep up farming more gold, both to upgrade her and to buy a new character. Leary’s fire rate is even faster than Chloe’s, making a light work of basic enemies. More importantly, her ability doubles the value of collected gold. Then comes Fael who has the worst statistics (movement, bullet speed and damage being the most important) of all characters but he has a powerful weapon and twice the lives. Still, I skipped playing with him and kept farming with the magnet girl as the later levels were so crowded that dashing for gold became suicidal.
It was only when I had unlocked Erika, the demon girl (though you couldn't tell that by her cute pink looks) with all the abilities of other characters, and had upgraded to her fullest, that I could enter the final stage and defeat Erebus (with my brother as a second Erika). The thing is, you need to upgrade Chloe, Leary and Fael to their maximum levels to be even able to purchase Erika. So, that’s a lot of gold and a lot of replayed stages. Completing the story unlocks the final character Nora, a police officer from the future (with a Terminator-style lightning ball entrance) who’s absolutely the best of the bunch. So, the game progressed exactly in the way the developer had planned it. There were no shortcuts.
The gameplay is so simple it’s almost hypnotic, with a chiptune soundtrack thumping in the background and the characters guns’ continuous stream of spot effects adding an extra rhythm track to pace the action. The pixel art is chunky but expressive and the action runs in a smooth 60fps with no slow-down. In the thick of action, it’s sometimes hard to make the difference between characters in the co-op play, as is pretty common in twin-stick shooters. You hardly can keep up with your own character in the midst of dozens of zombies and among hundreds of bullets spit by bosses. But really, all you need to follow is the trail of your own bullets and the character is bound to be at the starting point of it!
Riddle Corpses EX is a retro game done right. Back in the good old days, whenever you had a new game to play, you made progress each time you played it. Baby steps at first but the more you played it, the more apt you became at it. After finally completing the game, you had mastered it in such a manner that you could repeat the feat blindfolded. It’s basically the same here. Granted, it’s the gameplay hook that makes the characters better rather than your playing skills fundamentally improving but still, it’s a bliss when all those stages that were so difficult at first are reduced to a gold farming status. In the end, it all was worth the effort. Riddled Corpses EX might not leave a big footnote into the annals of video games but all the same it ranks among the most fun I have had with games this year.
Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.