Monday, March 26, 2018

Demo Hotness: Grapple Force Rena

After having been delighted by Galaxy Trail's Sonic-like platformer, Freedom Planet, I've been eagerly awaiting its sequel. While it appears that Freedom Planet 2 is a still a while off, in the meantime, the game's developer has been supporting a smaller indie project called Grapple Force Rena.  A demo for this previously unknown game recently became available on Steam, so I decided to give it a go.

Much like Galaxy Trail's Freedom Planet, Grapple Force Rena (GFR) has the look and feel of a Sega Genesis game. However, while Freedom Planet drew inspiration from Sonic, GFR feels like a 16-bit pastel-colored cartoon take on Bionic Commando with a touch of Treasure influence thrown in for good measure. As would be expected from a Bionic Commando-like (I have no idea if that's a real expression), this game is all about its grappling hook mechanic. Rena can fire her hook in any direction to swing, pull, rappel, and grab any surface or enemy. Thankfully, for a game that is so singularly focused on a locomotion mechanic, GFR really gets the feel of the movement right. It took me a little while to find the control scheme that worked for me, but after a few minutes, I was swinging Rena around like Spiderman. GFR also sports some cute pixel art and a cheerful soundtrack.

The demo of GRF is pretty generous; it includes five stages comprising the first world of the game. I was surprised to find that each of the five stages had a different structure rather than just simply trying to get from point A to point B. Here's a quick breakdown:
  • Stage 1: Introduces the different actions Rena can perform with her grappling hook and introduces the quirky characters inhabiting the game world. It does a good job of showing off how versatile the grappling hook can be. Otherwise, a fairly straight-forward linear platforming stage.
  • Stage 2: Hunting down all the enemies in the level using an on-screen directional prompt. This level also features a fairly simple mid-boss battle. There's not much to the combat but I enjoyed picking up enemies and ricocheting them off of walls like pinballs.
  •  Stage 3: Searching the stage for the entrance to the enemy's secret base. In this stage, Rena is joined by a flying companion. While I liked the idea of expanding Rena's move set by giving her a partner, I felt that the execution here was a little off. I often found myself trying to grapple a ledge or an enemy, only for my companion to fly into my path. I'm also not a big fan of scouring stages trying to find something, especially when there's no map.
  • Stage 4: A chase scene in which Rena tries to knock down the villain's airship. Rena's locomotion could make for some exciting chases but this one was fairly slow since I had to repeatedly stop to pick up more enemies/objects to throw at the airship. I'm hoping later parts of the game will involve chases that are more focused on quickly fluid movements and less on chipping away slowly at an enemy.
  • Stage 5: The boss of world 1. After being lukewarm on the previous two stages, this one brought me back in. It's definitely standard first boss fair, but doing it with a grappling hook was enough to make it feel different than other platformers. I think there's some potential here for great boss battles later in the game.
While this early demo didn't exhibit quite the level of fluidity, speed, style, and polish that I saw in Freedom Planet, the solid mechanics at its core were enough to keep me interested. Previews of some of the upcoming parts of the game show a lot of promise, so I plan on checking in on this game again later as it develops.

If you're interested in trying the demo for yourself, you can find it on Steam or the game's website.