Don’t be fooled by the key promo art for Riddled Corpses EX, available now on Nintendo Switch, PS4, and Xbox One for about 10 bucks. It is not, in fact, an anime girl game. All of its characters are rendered in small square retro-style pixels that don’t have near the amount of detail shown in the above artwork.
That’s okay though, because Riddled Corpses EX does have 12 hours of extremely intense twin stick arcade action, hearkening back to the best classics of the genre like Robotron, Smash TV, and Geometry Wars. It’s a re-tuned version of a PC game from a few years ago, and it is one of the best games I’ve played this year.
Developed by one-man studio Diabolical Mind, and ported to consoles from PC by one-man publisher Cowcat, Riddled Corpses EX spreads its challenge across six elaborate stages and multiple unlockable characters, each with their own abilities and unique play style.
Six stages might not sound like enough, but these levels are brutal, and will push your action game skills to the limit. The game’s difficulty is designed expertly around its RPG-like progression mechanic, and you’ll have to play each of these levels multiple times in order to earn the gold necessary to hit the level cap for your favorite character. Even with a max-level character, the game still provides white knuckle action thrills right in line with the genre’s best. The only time I struggled with the difficulty was when I learned that failing in Stage six kicks you all the way back to the beginning of Stage five, but if anything, that only furthered my resolve to succeed.
The story mode is the main attraction, and the story has a lot of fun with the tired video game premise of a post-apocalyptic zombie scenario. While the narrative content is only shown in short text blurbs at the beginning of each stage that don’t waste your time, you’ll still get doses of time travel, experiments gone wrong, and bad guys joining forces with good guys for the sake of saving the planet. Sure, it’s all trope-heavy stuff, and you’ll probably just skip these scenes after seeing them once, but I thought the story was fun.
Story mode requires grinding for gold to upgrade characters, and you can also buy a limited number of extra lives and power ups at the start of each stage. Once you unlock a stage you can start the story mode from that point, and also replay it to your heart’s content, and to earn more gold.
The core gameplay is vintage, responsive, twin analog stick shooting. The Switch version includes a single Joycon mode, and while it technically works, I preferred the extra control offered by having two sticks.
Each character has different shot speed, damage output, and movement speed statistics, and they get more powerful as you grind them towards the level cap. Many of them even have special abilities that change up the game a little, like multipliers for gold and health. The core consumable powerups are screen-clearing bombs and a special clock that freezes time, and eventually you’ll also unlock automated turrets and Gradius-style machine gun spheres that float around your characters.
These unlockables help balance the high difficulty without ever making the game too easy, which is impressive since it’s so hard to get that just right.
The base gameplay rides that perfect line between order and chaos that the best examples of the genre aspire to, and there’s rarely a down moment to catch your bearings. Progression requires learning the levels, earning upgrades to hit level caps, and a little bit of gamer luck.
Boss fights throw a Bullet Hell-shaped wrench into the game, filling the screen with pink projectiles. It’s not as intense or difficult as some of the bigger entries in the Bullet Hell genre, and if you like the boss fights here, you’ll probably also love some of the more famous Bullet Hell games, like anything made by Cave, for instance.
These boss fights are the only thing I could see potentially pushing away fans of the twin stick genre since they sneak in other mechanics, but I had a good time figuring them out.
This is the first game in which I’ve done everything in the last couple of months. Beating the story mode took me about 12 hours, and I spent a few hours after that mopping up my few remaining upgrades, and trying out the game’s Arcade and Survival modes. Each is a fun twist on the core gameplay, driven by online leaderboards and slightly switched-up progression. Arcade starts you at character level one each time, and you have to pick up collectibles to level up during your run. Survival is a classic Geometry Wars-style endless score chase mode.
Graphically, the game properly evokes the 16-bit era, with detailed pixel art graphics that animate at a locked 60 frames per second, even on the Nintendo Switch. I told a friend it was one of the best-looking Game Boy Advance games that wasn’t actually on the Game Boy Advance. The two different chiptune soundtracks also properly hit the nostalgia button, and the extra unlockable digitized heavy metal score is a lot of fun.
Round this out with its local two player co-op, and it’s a robust package that hides more value than its small price suggests. I thought I was going to get an afternoon of fun, and instead I got a whole week of intense action gameplay.
I can’t really find anything negative to say about this game. It provides more content than I expected for the price and it’s still fun for me to revisit even after living with it for a week.
The original PC non-EX version is a bit of a different beast. It’s lacking the second chiptune soundtrack, it’s locked at 30FPS, and has a difficulty that’s slightly tougher and less thought-out. It’s balanced around trying to support both the PC platform’s mouse and keyboard control system, and gamepad users. The core stuff is all there, but it’s not quite as polished, meaning the console versions are the better choice if you’ve got the option.
If you love retro-inspired graphics and challenging twin stick shooters, Riddled Corpses EX is a game you’ll want to investigate immediately. I only found it because it happened to have a lengthy demo on the Switch, and now it’ll certainly find its way into my personal 2019 top ten.
It’s a great product that’s impressively designed and fun to play through, made all the more cool by the tiny size of its development team.