ReCore isn't afraid to kick you in the teeth. It doesn't highlight your failures, but when you miss a jump and undo the last five minutes of careful work, that bitter taste is there all the same. When a perfectly timed ballet of double jumps and dashes end with you standing before your objective, you'll pump your fist in the sky.
ReCore harkens back to an older style of game design. It doesn't handhold. There are waypoints, but no breadcrumbs; how you get to the point is up to you. ReCore shows you the outline of its mechanics and expects you to fill in the blanks. Sure, there are things that are indicative of current game design - an open world, extensive crafting, RPG-style leveling and loot - but the lens they're viewed through is distinctly 'old-school'.
What Comcept and Armature Studio have created here is cross between two titles staffers from those studios have worked on previously: Mega Man Legends and Metroid Prime. The combat and general dungeon diving feels like the former, while the spot-on platforming definitely points toward the latter. It's good company to be in.
The Core of the Story
ReCore is the story of Joule Adams, a young woman who wakes up on the desert planet of Far Eden. Joule awakens from cryosleep with her robotic dog Mack in tow. The planet is supposed to be terraformed for all the ships waiting in orbit, but something went horribly wrong. From there, it's up to Joule and Mack to find out what went wrong. The story is told through cutscenes and audio logs that slowly fill out the backstory of this lonely wasteland.
Mack and other robots like him at the primary inhabitants of Far Eden, each powered by the "core" in the game's title. Each core is a different color, with its own in-game and in-story affinity: Red Cores affect the Attack stat and are associated with bravery, Blue Cores boost energy and cover the emotion of happiness, while Yellow Cores are about defense and caution. Every other robot you meet and fight against is powered by one of these cores, with later enemies straddling the line between cores.
Mack is a blue core, infinitely happy and quick on the recharge for his special abilities. You're later joined by Duncan, a hefty red core that can destroy obstacles in your path, and Seth, a yellow core that's afraid of heights, but can carry Joule along elevated tracks like a spider. You'll also gain alternate frames that you can slot Mack, Duncan, or Seth's core into; Mack spent most of his time in the Flier frame for example, which lets Joule glide slowly to the ground.
One of ReCore's strongest aspects is your corebot companions. They don't speak any English, but they all have rather clear and endearing personalities that shine through in cutscenes and gameplay. They could just be automatons that offer you abilities, but Comcept and Armature decided to put an adorable face on your companions. (One you can customize!) Even the Fast Travel system in the game is fronted by the tiny militaristic Violet, who ended up being one of my favorites. It helps keep you engaged.
Explore the Lonely Desert
ReCore is largely divided between two modes of play: combat and exploration. Exploration is where ReCore shines the most. Clad in her exo-suit, Joule can do two jumps and dash before she has to land. She can pull herself up if you get close to an edge.
This is your bread-and-butter from the beginning to end. As you play, you'll slowly get a feel for judging the distance you can travel. Do you Jump, Dash, and Jump or Jump, Jump, and Dash? Those will carry you different distances, so knowing which to use is important. I spent 20 minutes in one section because I kept missing a jump. The problem was I should've dashed, then jumped, but I keep assuming I had to double jump first. It didn't help that missing that jump meant I needed to restart a whole chain of leaps and dashes.
The platforming here is tight and a ground icon that appears whenever you jump is helpful for aiming. The last time I played a similar 3D platformer was when I reviewed Ratchet and Clank, but ReCore has more complex jumps and puzzle areas that require hard precision from players.
The world of ReCore is divided between a few open-world hubs with various instanced dungeons hidden in their nooks and crannies. Part of what enhances the feeling of exploration is the rather freeform nature of platforming in the open world. I kept trying to catch a small bit of space on a rock face or building to boost myself to where I wanted to go. There are many cases where I reached an objective and I couldn't tell if that was the intended path or just a plan I made up on the fly. I appreciate that, because it leaves the player feeling like they've outsmarted the game.
There's also a general Metroidvania feel to the open world sections, where you'll see those far off outcroppings and platforms you know you can't reach yet. Areas that you can take another shot at once you gain a new ability. ReCore will show you, "Hey, you use this ability when you see stuff like this," and you'll remember three or four spots where a similar rail or rock was present. And getting back to those places is generally easy with an extensive fast travel system.
Warning: Platforming ramps up real quick in ReCore. It gets rather complex only a few dungeons in. ReCore asks for a lot from the player, especially in the case of traversal dungeons. This is not a game for the platforming impaired. By time you hit the Eden Tower, ReCore expects that you know what the hell you're doing.
Can You Shoot With All The Colors of the Wind?
Combat is based largely around the colored cores. When Joule and her chosen partner - you can have any two equipped at one time and switch between them by pressing the Left Bumper - run into an enemy, both leap into battle. Joule wields a automatic rifle with infinite, recharging ammo and two firing modes: full auto or a charge shot. The rifle can switch between a neutral white or any of the three primary colors.
If you're up against a yellow core enemy, you want to switch to the yellow firing mode to do more damage. The same is true of your partners, Mack will do more damage against his fellow blue cores. In addition, each color imparts status effects: blue stuns foes, red lights people on fire, and yellow slows. Combat is a matter of staying away from the enemy and their status effects, while switching to the colored ammo that will do the most damage.
Your charge shot is used to take down enemy shields, opening them up to take more damage. Once you've whittle down their lifebar enough, you an extract their cores with Joule's winch, featuring a tug of war where you have to hold back or risk your line breaking.
There's a choice to make though: extracted cores can be used to power up your companions' stats, but if you extract an enemy's core, they won't drop parts. You always have to ask yourself, "Do I need parts to craft new upgrades for my robot friends, or do I just need to buff their stats?" I found myself leaning hard on the former, as crafting parts from research blueprints tends to yield more immediate stat boosts and bonuses, as opposed to slowly pumping my team up using core fusion.
Combat is decent, but at the highest level, it feels like you're fighting the system due to a host of tiny problems. You can lock onto an enemy and switch between targets by flicking the look stick, but in the heat of battle, twitch reflexes means moving the stick will cause you to switch targets. Early on, this isn't an issue, but in some later areas, the game will throw three or four major enemies and a bunch of smaller targets at you. You'll find yourself accidentally switching targets in the frantic rush to get away, which means wasted shots and opportunities.
Joule herself feels like she needs an extra movement option in combat. Taking a hit occasionally causes her to stand still, which is bad in major fights or endurance waves, where a single hit essentially sets you up for lethal damage. Especially in the Eden Tower, you'll have fights where you were doing great until you took a hit from an enemy off camera, which set you up for a killing blow. Which sends you back to the beginning of the endurance fight.
An extra dodge roll or recovery move would've helped immensely. As it stands, in some of the endurance wave sections, I didn't feel like I passed through it because my skills improved. Instead, it felt like the array of enemies attacked me in a slightly different pattern, so I avoided the single hit that would spell instant death. Getting hit by the blue core Stun ability - which requires you to waggle the analog stick to break free - is frequently a death sentence in end game fights. Combining that stun with stronger foes and wide area of effect abilities means, you'll be waggling as Joule's lifebar drops to zero.
The game's general progression also grinds to a complete stop at certain points. Certain doors will require a certain partner, level, or number of prismatic cores. The partner requirement makes sense, as you frequently need that corebot's abilities to move forward. The level requirement also makes some sense, as ReCore has no difficulty settings, so this is how the game determines if you can actually face the challenges ahead. The prismatic core requirement is just layered on top of that though, as an arbitrary number.
You'll find yourself engrossed in the ongoing mystery of Far Eden only to have a faceless gatekeeper go, "You're not cool enough for this yet." After finishing the challenging first floor of the Eden Tower, I was ready to tackle the second only to find out that I need 1 more prismatic core and 2 more levels to proceed. That meant I had to teleport out of the dungeon, grab another core and grind out 2 levels before I could move forward.
I'd understand if you were given a notice that a section might be difficult for someone of your level, but the hard limits on certain doors absolutely kill the flow of ReCore. Part of the strength of the Metroidvania genre is hiding those gates. Specific items and abilities become keys to doors hidden in the environment, not some level or number requirement. There's a difference between encouraging more exploration and forcing a player to do so. Imagine having to grind out levels between every section of Dr. Wily's Castle in Mega Man and you'll understand my frustration here. Not a fan of the design choice.
It's also somewhat annoying having to have a corebot companion out to use their environmental ability. Many times I'd make a jump only to realize I had the wrong corebot out and I was unable to switch in mid-air. It would open up ReCore up to some more platforming puzzles if the abilities were always available once learned.
Finally, there were bugs here and there. ReCore on Windows 10 crashed on me once and occasionally the game wouldn't read any inputs from my Xbox One controller, despite Control Panel still showing the controller as connected. There were no "fall through the world" level bugs in my playthrough, but the occasional niggling issue did pop up.
That said, those issues don't ruin ReCore for me. This was not a game that was on my radar at all and I walked away pleasantly surprised. It's been a long time since a platformer challenged me like this and a game treated me like I was capable of learning without handholding the entire way. It's a bit of the short side - around 10 hours give or take - and part of that feels a bit padded due to the level gates.
I had a ton of fun playing it though. Being out in the open-world hopping around is immensely rewarding. In the dungeons, there's some Prince of Persia style rooms you have to get through with only your reflexes and skills. There's very few games like this anymore. ReCore is a throwback in the best way and I look forward to seeing how Comcept and Armature Studio build upon the foundation laid here.
The Nitty Gritty
- Lasting appeal: After you finish the critical path, there's still a few more secrets out there.
- Visuals: ReCore looks decent, through it clearly has a smaller budget than some other AAA games. And the Xbox One version sits below the Windows 10 version.
ReCore is a style of game we haven't seen in a while. Part Mega Man Legends, part Metroid Prime, ReCore puts exploration and platforming at the forefront. With your trusty corebot pals, you'll double jump and dash through an open world and some damned fiendish dungeons. While ReCore trips up a bit with some odd combat and gating mechanics, it's still worth your time if you remember how platforming was in the old days.
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