While E3 has dominated the conversation in video games this month with its yearly fanfare of upcoming blockbuster titles, Riverbond released as a timely indie palate cleanser. With charming visuals and satisfying gameplay, Cococucumber's "slash and shoot" dungeon crawler provides a great deal of relaxing entertainment but is limited in scope and challenge.
Riverbond's concept is simple but effective, which is made immediately clear as soon as you enter one of the game's eight dungeons. You're thrown into a cutesy world of charming characters, with talking animals providing your next objective in humorous chit-chat dialogue. Quests can be as basic as retrieving an item or clearing the stage of its aggressive NPCs (if you can imagine feeling threatened by a cute penguin with a tiny sword) before advancing toward a dungeon's end boss.
The gameplay is incredibly easy to get to grips with, using a combination of melee and ranged weapons to slice or shoot your way through groups of enemies. The combat is simple but hugely satisfying, which is in part due to the responsive, smooth controls but also the visual aesthetic.
One of the first things you'll notice about Riverbond is its vibrant voxel art style. Not only does it look gorgeous, but it pairs excellently with the feel of the gameplay. Everything you see in the world before you - cubes making up shrubbery, crates and other environmental clutter - is all completely destructible. After being obliterated, objects and enemies disperse into a cloud of small fragments. It feels endlessly satisfying to slice through a horde of piglets while a shower of colourful cubes rains over you like confetti, making every enemy you defeat feel like a small celebration.
Whilst the combat and visuals provide oodles of fun and stimulation, there are times when the game will start to feel repetitive. After storming through a couple of the first dungeons, you'll notice the later tasks will be overly familiar and somewhat tedious. Without offering much of a development in the story or even a little increase in difficulty, you'll be mindlessly mashing your way through levels, reaching a dungeon's end in anywhere between 25 and 45 minutes.
That being said, the developers have managed to keep dungeon design relatively diverse, ensuring there's a dash of variety sprinkled into each level. You're encouraged to explore your environment due to valuable treasure chests hidden around the stage, each packed with an outrageous new weapon to play around with or a stupidly adorable skin to add to your collection.
Weapons can be as ridiculous as stabbing your enemy with an upvote arrow, slapping them around with a giant cartoon hand, or opening fire using a gun filled with rainbows. The types of weapons are differentiated by speed and damage, which helps keep combat fresh with up to five slots in your inventory to fluidly switch between. The only issue with this is that there aren't any weapon stats provided when making the decision to pick up something new.