Welcome to the new Finger Guns. All RICO, all the time. I jest, of course, but we’ve interviewed Ground Shatter founder James Parker, reviewed RICO and now here I am talking about it again, all in the space of 24 hours. I’m sure we’ll shut up about it. Eventually.
Rather than step on the toes of Rossko’s review (read that here), I felt compelled to write about some of the smart design choices that were made when creating RICO that weirdly remind me of the arcade beat-‘em-up’s of ‘Yore’ like Double Dragon.
If you weren’t alive to experience Double Dragon in the late 80’s and early 90’s (congratulations on your youth), it’s a side scrolling beat-‘em-up that had you going up and down the screen as martial artist twins Billy and Jimmy Lee to fight off a variety of bad dudes from the criminal Black Warriors gang. It was made entirely out of pixel art with a chip turn soundtrack and it was glorious for its time.
On paper, Double Dragon and RICO, a co-op, procedural generated FPS with slow-motion door breaching, have virtually nothing in common, but the more I played of the latter, the more it reminded me of the former in some peculiar ways. I’ll try and explain…
Let’s start with the villains. In RICO, you’re kicking in doors and coming face to face with a whole host of villains that look like they just walked in off the set of Bad Boys 3. There’s the bare chested, bald biker guy, clad in tattoo’s and wielding a baseball bat. Then there’s the tubby shot gunner who, unlike his bald buddy, managed to slip on a shirt as well as a bullet proof jacket. Of course there’s a triad group, dressed in snappy suits and equipped with an Uzi. As you progress, you’ll even come up against armoured troopers that are a pair of red eyes away from being from Helgan. The smart design choice made in RICO is that the visual appearance of each foe relates to their threat level. When you kick open a door in RICO, you’re given a few seconds of slow motion to survey the room and to start spraying lead. Say you burst open the door and the room has 3 baldy baseball bat dudes and a guy clad in SWAT gear rocking a machine gun, you know who your main target should be within a second. Those bikers are going to take a few seconds to get to you while that SWAT fella is going to turn you into swish cheese if you don’t deal with him quickly.
In Double Dragon, you’d have a similar situation. As you walked along to the right, the screen would fix in position and a group of villains would walk on to screen. Similar to RICO, each different villain type had their own visual aesthetic and threat level. If a group of Williams or Rowper’s walked on screen, you know you’d be okay. They are low threat guys that can be taken out quite quickly but if an Abobo (tall guy, shirtless, bald head) came on screen and headed towards some barrels, you know you’d have to prioritise taking him down. Being able to spot threat level with just a glance is the same energy in both games.
The next comparison is the way both games can be played. After kicking open a door in RICO, you get a few seconds of slow motion but once that’s up, the game reverts back to normal speed. A lot of the time, you’ll be able to clear a whole room of bad dudes while you’re going all Matrix-like through a door but you’ll sometimes leave a few villains standing. Given the chance, the ne’er-do-well’s in RICO can really tear in to you so standing in the middle of the room without cover isn’t advisable. Here, you can play the angles and lure your targets into positions that best suit your situation. Many of the villains in RICO will follow you once they’re made aware of your position which means you can position yourself in a way to ensure you get the drop on them like going flat against a wall and waiting for them to pop their head through the doorway so you can pop it off.
In Double Dragon, you can do something very similar. Say you’re running low on health, you could travel down the screen so that a Black Warrior would follow you and if you timed it right, you could hit them in the hit box of the leg while none of their attacks could hit you. I used to cheese enemies like this a lot back in the day (sue me, I was 7) and teasing enemies through a door to blast them in the noggin in RICO immediately reminded me of those good old days.
The last comparison is how both Double Dragon and RICO feel to play in co-op, specifically around friendly fire. In Double Dragon, you could beat the snot out of one another, either on purpose or by accident. If my brother had a penny for every time I accidentally (sometimes not so accidentally) battered an enemy in his direction, sending him flying too, he’d probably have enough money to buy a meal deal in WHSmiths. We’d laugh, I’d apologise, I’d do it again. While never resulting in a game over, it was hella funny. The same can be said about RICO. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been aiming down my sights in RICO, lining up that perfect headshot on baldy baseball dude only to pull the trigger as I see Rossko’s head pop up in front of me, resulting in me shooting him in his ear. This is always followed by a “Oops, terribly sorry about shooting you in the back of the head there chap” and occasionally some giggles. Both games are fantastic to play in co-op and share those moments of accidental hilarity.
While I’m sure “reminding Sean of a 3 decade old beat-‘em-up” was never a design pillar of RICO, the feeling of pure fun mixed with tension and challenge is something both games share. Despite the 32 year difference in release dates, it’s a testament to those core concepts that never seem to get old. Easily readable threat levels, allowing you to “game” the system to your advantage and an enjoyable co-op mode that lets you accidentally (Okay, I’ll admit, I shot Rossko in the head on purpose just once. There, I said it) damage your partner mean both RICO and Double Dragon are really great games from 2 entirely different genres that feel weirdly similar to play.