It's not often that I have a chance to play two games that remind me of a genre that I've considered a guilty pleasure of mine. When covering Cassette Beasts, a huge part of the game's charm was the henshin mechanic in which party members can transform into various monsters. While not outright stating it, this was a neat homage to the tokusatsu genre where the heroes have dual identities as civilians and superheroes. While the tokusatsu inspiration may have not been intentional, here's a game that outright pays tribute to every monster-busting alien fighting spandex-wearing salaryman with a black belt out there --- Rift Rangers. I was given an opportunity to try this game out after proving my knowledge of Kamen Rider intellect, so let's dive in!
Comparatively, the closest game that was similar to Rift Rangers that I've recently covered was Vampire Survivors. In that game, the objective is survival, pitting the player against an endless wave of enemies while leveling and completing side objectives along the way. What was unique about that game was that the only thing required of the player was movement. Every weapon behaved differently and had its own attack patterns that activated automatically. An axe would attack in a circular motion, splashes of holy water fall to the ground like grenades, knives shoot parallel from each other, and other weapons behave in similar manners as well.
After each run, players use their hard-earned coins to give themselves permanent buffs to make future playthroughs easier to manage. More characters, weapons, and maps are unlocked the more the game was explored, but there was a sense of progression. I could see why a game like this would be a hit, but it wasn't for me. It just wasn't my aesthetic and while I understood the purpose of an "auto attacker," I felt like I had no real control over my character. If only there was some way I could place my weapon props anywhere I felt like so I could always set up a vantage point when hoards of enemies appear at once.
Then, suddenly, as if my demands were overheard, four superheroes fall from the sky! Enter the Rift Rangers as they take on their ultimate quest to add a new coat of life to a genre that has a lot of potentials! Unfortunately, one ranger bothered to clock in, but it's okay because our starting ranger is a good starting point and we'll look at the others soon. The main menu theme was enough of an inspiration to feel pumped up in whatever action I was going to get myself into. This is a severely underrated game design, but good menu music means a lot especially if it matches the flavor. Jitsu Squad was another good example of getting me to feel pumped up for a "Saturday Morning Cartoon 1990s-style" adventure.
Each of the four Rangers has a unique ability and a starting weapon that determines their main play style. One ranger gains a speed boost that also makes them invulnerable for a brief period. This is also the starting ranger, making it easy to get out of harm's way while also learning how to play Rift Rangers. The Black Ranger's ability is to detonate and/or place as many bombs as possible surrounding the player. As expected, this favors a strategy "active" style rather than the hit-and-run style of the previous Rangers. They also come equipped with a starting weapon, although these weapons are more like structures as seen in other tower defense-style games.
Rift Rangers isn't a "top-down shooter" or "any kind of shooter," rather the goal in each stage is to capture various control points that the enemies have taken over. While making a stand in recapturing a point, hoards of enemies will center toward your location in which your various gadgets will keep them at bay. One gadget fires lasers with the potential to burn enemies, dealing damage over time, or leaving AOE fire trails. Another gadget is a fan that deals powerful gusts of wind in close range and is even powerful enough to stun and destroy projectiles.
While the weapons do most of the handiwork, it's up to the player to place the weapons in the best locations, much like the TD genre it's based on. However, the game ends when time's up or upon player defeat. There is no "major base" to defend, but rather every minute or so, a new control point will spawn. Once the player captures it, they receive a beneficial buff, clean up the rest of the enemies, rinse, and repeat. Certain stages have unique gimmicks that increase the difficulty, for example, one stage takes place on a highway, lacking the verticality and room of the space station. There's also a hazard with traffic that can run over the aliens as well as the Rangers themselves!
Before I knew it, I spent longer with my Rift Rangers session than I expected. The colorful graphics and satisfying animations were one thing, but it was the fact that I could attack and control my character outside of moving that made it fun. I wasn't mindlessly running in circles as swirling weapons hovered over my body, but I was making sure my gadgets had the optimal uptime as well. Pretty soon, I learned not to avoid the enemies, but make a stand in the center as I slowly made an opening, while getting stronger and collecting more experience.
For five dollars, the amount of replayability Rift Rangers provides is extraordinarily high and is at a similar price ranger to Vampire Survivors, meaning players should absolutely pick both up. I had more fun with Rift Rangers, a lot more fun than I expected, even though tower defense games aren't my forte. You don't have to be a genius and strategically build a fortress. You're a superhero! The cool part is killing waves of aliens in spectacular fashion and Rift Rangers excels in this. I highly recommend this for Steam Deck users who want something quick and easy on the go.
Rift Rangers is currently in Early Access on Steam and will leave Early Access on May 24, 2023.