by Matthew Thompson
ReCore gets off to such a promising start that it is hard not to fall for the game early on. In many ways it feels like a throwback to games from a time gone by. Cinematic ambition and storytelling take a back seat to the nuts and bolts of gameplay here. Platforming is prominent and challenging in a way rarely seen in today’s releases. It often reminds me of Sony’s PS2-era platformers like Jak and Daxter and Ratchet & Clank. Once upon a time, I lived for games like that. I still would if those games weren’t so few and far between. In that way, ReCore was a very welcome release in 2016. Unfortunately, the deeper I got into protagonist Joule’s journey, the more things started to break apart at the seams. By the end, I found a promising title brought down by technical issues, a severe lack of polish and some head-scratching design decisions.
Let’s start with some of the good things. The platforming delivers with an interesting moveset and level design that puts it to good use. Double jumps and air dashes combined with some of your robotic companions’ powers – like a spider that allows you to climb along designated rails – make for a diverse set of movement capabilities. Throw in some unique ideas like rings that reset your ability to jump and dash again in mid-air and the end result are some dizzying aerial displays that laugh at the concept of gravity. The level structure further adds to this enjoyable platforming component. The linear dungeons put your skill on the sticks to the test with hazard-filled obstacle courses, even throwing in a reward for doing them quickly for those looking for an extra challenge. Meanwhile, the open-world often tasks you with puzzling out how to get from one place to another. Here your creativity to manipulate Joule and company’s moveset will net you a hidden collectible. I don’t recall the last time a new IP came out with such a well-made 3D platforming element. It is my favorite part of ReCore.
There is plenty more to like about the game besides this. Circling back to the structure, I am a sucker for games that can combine linear and open-world designs effectively. ReCore uses a Zelda-esque dungeon setup to achieve this allowing for wide-open exploration while still reaping the benefits of linear levels elsewhere. Side content is plentiful and I loved the variety of content found inside dungeons; some focusing on combat, others on traversal, yet additional combining both. Finally, who wouldn’t fall for Joule’s band of robot buddies. Their abilities will help you find secrets and combat baddies, but they also come with unique personalities that make them that much more lovable from the loyal Mack (who has a cute doggie frame!) to the skittish, scaredy-cat Seth. Simply put, they’re fantastic.
All this, along with a sizable combat component that works well enough, made for a pleasant first five or so hours with ReCore. After that, the warts started to show. I started to run into glitches like disappearing floors. I found myself respawning to my death over and over in side dungeons where I could only fast travel to my home base to escape, killing my will to seek out any bonus content available or even finish some of those areas. It is also at this point in the game where I began to actually die in combat and was treated to the load times at their worst (I played this at launch on Xbox One before they were patched, so your mileage may vary if you get it now).
Worse than any of these issues is how the game handles switching between your robots. It is the most mind-boggling design decision I have come across in recent memory. I can’t understand it and it affects every aspect of ReCore. Basically you can only have two robots with you at any time. You use these to unlock Prismatic Cores – the collectible that drives progression through the game. If you run across one that needs your brute frame but don’t have it, you have to head back to a fast travel point to swap robots and then go back to get it. Making matters worse is that there are four robot frames, but only three personality cores. This means at fast travel points you can only switch between three of your robots and their abilities at any given time. If you need the fourth one, you have to travel all the way back to your home base. The game wants you to explore. And so do I. But when the robot swapping setup is combined with the brutal load times, exploration – including some required of you to progress late in the game – becomes a bit of a slog.
The negative effects of this design decision seeps into other aspects of the game as well. Dungeons can’t ask you to use all of your companion abilities at any given time and are worse for it. Combat is all about swapping weapons and robot attacks to suit different enemies, but since you can only flip between two you don’t always have the best option available. Mixing and matching personalities with different frames gives you new attacks, but the way things are discourages experimentation with this aspect. I don’t know why you can’t simply flip between your three at any time by cycling or a quick select menu of some kind. I don’t know why you can’t move the different personality cores between frames in the pause screen. This design decision holds the game back so much and, unless it is due to some technical issues that are beyond my understanding, it seems like an active choice by the developers. I’m still scratching my head about it.
I love the game ReCore strives to be. The throwback feeling, the platforming focus, the robot pals… they are all right up my alley. Unfortunately the best parts of this game are brought down by the technical and game design issues I have discussed in this post. There is still fun to be had here, but it feels like a game where I will always wonder what could have been. If it just had a bigger budget. If only it had more time in the oven to iron some of its issues. As is, ReCore is a mixed bag, equal parts promising and frustrating.