While some games may be a bit shy about their influences, Rabi-Ribi is not one such.
It’s an unabashed Metroidvania in the best possible way and – possibly following in Yoko Taro’s footsteps – doesn’t try to make any lame excuses (I’m looking at you Metal Gear Solid V) for having cute, perpetually scantily-clad girls making up (as far as I’ve seen) 100% of the cast.
You play as Erina, a bunny transformed for… some… reason into a human/bunny hybrid (basically a human with bunny ears and tail; you know the drill) now on a hunt to save her owner’s sister who has, somehow, traversed a dimensional portal and ended up in our world.
Erina needs to constantly track down more and more magic users to bring to the game’s hub, Rabi-Rabi town (almost literally everything about this game revolves around rabbits, for some reason), so that you can power the magic Steele and hop over to the other dimension to save your master’s missing sibling.
While there’s tons and tons of dialogue set to incredibly well crafted still artwork to fill you in on the plot, what it basically boils down to is you traversing an impressively large and varied map full of cute things that want to kill you, looking for the next magic user to bring to the party.
If the story seems a little strange, that’s okay: it’s clearly just an excuse for the gameplay to happen. But I have absolutely no problem with that, and neither should you. Metroidvania games have never been stalwart storytellers, needing little more than a set-up to kick off huge, sprawling adventures in which the gameplay is undoubtedly king.
But Taiwanese developers CreSpirit have actually managed to pack Rabi-Ribi with a ton of heart and soul, thanks in no small part to a hugely varied cast of interesting characters. They each have their own typically Anime attributes; from an immortal princess whose pyramid has become an impromptu tourist attraction to a weirdly pervy witch who wants to conduct (ahem) ‘experiments’ on Erina.
It’s the relationship between the two main characters – the aforementioned bunny girl, Erina, and her diminutive fairy sidekick, Ribbon – that drives the experience forwards and is almost constantly entertaining, though it does sometimes stray into being too much of a good thing.
Combat is at the core of this cutesy 2D action platformer; tight and totally rewarding combat. The bulk of your attacks will come at both ends of Erina’s enormous red and yellow Piko Hammer, and you’ll consistently unlock more and more attacks for you and your mighty weapon (at least for the first ten or so hours) that flesh out your moveset without ever really complicating it.
All of your melee attacks are pulled off with the triangle button, sometimes in combination with different directional inputs, while X handles your jumping and sliding which are also upgraded as the game progresses. The square button is for Ribbon’s ranged attacks, which again get upgraded while you play – though this time it’s with magic wand pickups that you can find while exploring. And then you have the circle button, which is reserved for special attacks that vary depending on which of four types of magic Ribbon is currently using. It’s also used to activate your bunny amulet – hurting the enemy and granting you a brief window of invincibility: incredibly useful during Rabi-Ribi’s frequent and glorious boss fights.
Reading most reviews nowadays, you’d probably be forgiven for thinking that Dark Souls holds the monopoly on good boss fights but I think Rabi-Ribi could be a solid contender in that marketplace. While they’re not quite to the same standard of Soulsborne’s gruelling encounters, nor do they really feature a similar level of ingenuity or variety, they are extremely well executed and bloody good fun bullet-hell marathons that you’ll invariably need more than one try to beat, especially on the game’s (unlockable) higher difficulties.
Each boss is, usually, another of the magic users you need to convince to come to Rabi-Rabi town; protagonists Erina and Ribbon often bemoan the fact that everything in the game seems to come down to violence, but fortunately, they’re pretty good at meting it out themselves. While they do all have insane bullet-hell magic attacks, the setup and attacks do change for each boss so they all offer their own challenge.
This goes for the normal mobs that Rabi-Ribi throws at you with reckless abandon, too. I don’t remember the last time I saw such huge enemy variety and not just ‘this enemy’s like that one but slightly bigger and blue’. Don’t get me wrong, there is some of that going on, but for the most part you’ll be fighting different enemies with different attack patterns, behaviours and counters. While there are occasions where there are simply too many enemies on screen at once, it does make for constantly changing and always interesting gameplay as you explore Rabi-Ribi’s gigantic map.
As you may expect from a Metroidvania game, you’re going to be doing a lot of back-and-forthing across Rabi-Ribi’s world. In fact, barring some sections near the start of the game and a locked-off section with a plausible excuse, there’s almost no limitation as to where you can go and what you can do whenever you want to do it. The world’s locations are interlinked, so even though there is a fast-travel mechanic in the shape of warp stones, there’s nothing to stop you from running from one end to the other in one go.
That being said, there are plenty of obstacles along the way, and the game makes excellent use of ability-locked sections where you’ll need to find a certain power-up to progress further down that route. Boss encounters are timed, though, and the open-world feel is actually a clever ploy by CreSpirit, who have carefully modelled their world so that you’ll always stumble across the power-up you’ll need to advance when the plot and the pacing demands it.
It’s not just power-ups you’ll be finding as you play; Rabi-Ribi has a slew of collectibles and optional extras for you to do both in and out of the game. For a start, you’re able to choose from several difficulty modes right off the bat – from a casual experience if you just want the story, to the normal mode that promises to deliver the developer’s preferred vision. More modes can be unlocked as you progress, alongside a boss-rush mode, CG gallery and more.
Once you get into the game, the number of collectibles Rabi-Ribi has to offer is phenomenal. I did a bit of counting and this is what I’ve got so far:
- 10 different maps to fill in
- 25 different moves for Erin and Ribbon
- 27 townsfolk to collect
- 32 badges to find and
- 48 different items to discover
That’s to say nothing of the amount of in-game currency you can earn to spend at Rabi-Rabi’s store, nor the hidden glowing egg things (I’ve no idea what they do), of which there are often more than one per level.
I’ve been playing Rabi-Ribi for over ten hours and I still have a heck of a lot of the above list to fill in. I got a zippy slide at around hour four, the double-jump at around hour seven, and unlocked the wall jump at hour nine. I’ve got four badges which you can use to customise Erina and Ribbon’s abilities. There are about seven magic users in my town. I am not bored, and I cannot wait to kick off the next ten hours to see where this crazy magic carpet ride of a game takes me.
Rabi-Ribi’s magic really lies in being relevant right now, as an innovative, deep and well-crafted 2D platformer complete with cutesy retro/Anime artstyle. It’s incredibly good fun to play, engaging and witty, easy to pick up and almost impossible to put down.
But, then, why would you ever want to put down a game that features a kick-ass cute/sexy bunny girl swinging a massive hammer? Answer: you wouldn’t.