Rabi-Ribi review: Metroidvania and bullet hell, a match made in heaven

Rabi-Ribi cleverly combines the Metroidvania and bullet hell genres, using a silly but heartfelt story and adorable pixel art to seal the deal.

Two of the very finest game genres are Metroidvanias and bullet hell shoot ‘em ups. (This is a fact. Don’t @ me.) When you take two of the best and combine them, you can reasonably expect something exceptional, but that hasn’t often been the case in practice. There have been a number of attempts at this story of hybrid over the years, but they tend to be mediocre at best, which is a shame.

Rabi-Ribi is different. This is a game made by people who clearly understand both Metroidvanias and bullet hells very well, and managed to unite them in a way that lets the best parts of each genre shine. Add to that some adorable characters, bright pixel art, and a joyful soundtrack, and you’ve got a fantastic game.

Rabi-Ribi begins with our hero, Erina, waking up in a strange place and with no memory of how she got there. Worse still, she’s no longer the rabbit she’s always been; somehow she’s been turned into a bunny-eared human! So she sets out to find her way home and reunite with her master Rumi, aided by Ribbon, a fairy she meets along the way.

Rabi-Ribi review

If doesn’t take long for Erina to find her way back to Rabi Rabi Town and the loving embrace of Rumi, but returning to her natural rabbit form is a bigger task. Rumi has an idea on how to go about it, but it requires a lot me magical energy than one person can master. Thus, Erina and Ribbon begin a journey to travel across ISLAND looking for people who show signs of magic, so that they might help her transformation.

Is it a silly premise? Sure, but it’s a really endearing one. It plans the way for delightful cast of cute, quirky characters, who all very their moment in the spotlight as Erina tries to convince them to help.

It also neatly sets up the exploration that drives the game. The goal is to search all over the island for magical people, which by its very definition encourages adventure. As with any Metroidvania, progress is gated by character upgrades that allow you to reach new places, like double jumps and the ability to slide through gaps to small to walk through. As you gain more of these sorts of skills, you become able to get past and a greater range of platforming obstacles, gaining access to new areas and new sections of maps you’ve already visited.

Rabi-Ribi review

Where Rabi-Ribi deviates from most Metroidvanias is its bullet hell combat system. Enemies have a tendency to throw large, increasingly complex patterns of shots that you need to avoid, and bosses in particular like to flood the screen with danger to test your reaction skills and pattern recognition. This works in much the same way as it does in Rabi-Ribi’s shoot ‘em up siblings: small, precise movements allow you to find and create safe spots amid the chaos and win the day.

In shoot ‘em ups, though, you generally have the benefit of free movement in four directions, but Rabi-Ribi holds you to platformer physics. You can’t just move north to dodge a bullet and then move south again when you need to; you have to jump over bullets and be mindful of where you’re going to land. This isn’t the sort of stringent platformer that holds you to your jump arcs, so you can course correct in mid-air, but what goes up must always come down. That gives Rabi-Ribi a very different bullet dodging dynamic, and enemy attack patterns play with that dynamic to great effect.

That may sound difficult, and it can be if you want, but Rabi-Ribi is great at accommodating a wide range of skill levels. On the lowest difficulty setting, it’s a very easy game: bullet patterns at much simpler than in the higher settings, and you have enough health and defense to weather a lot of hits before you die. Harder difficulties gradually make patterns more challenging and give you less room for error, with the appropriately-named Bunny Extinction mode being absolutely brutal.

Rabi-Ribi review

You can also change another setting, independent of combat difficulty, that affects how much the game emphasises gathering optional items like health boosts and such. In Standard mode, boss levels scale according to the number of items you’ve collected, so there’s not really much disadvantage if you choose not to spend too much time searching for hidden treasures. Conversely, Bunny Hell mode ties boss level to story progression only, putting extra emphasis on backtracking and exploring to find items.

Metroidvanias and bullet hells are both genres that often focus on difficulty, at the expense of more casual players, so for Rabi-Ribi to put this much effort into letting you play at the level you want is very welcome.

As I said before, this is all presented through cute, bright, vibrant pixel art. Character sprites are large, detailed, and full of personality, with soft colours that make the characters feel friendly and warm. The levels are similarly detailed, with bright colours and defined linework that draw attention to those little games and make the whole game a visual delight. By contrast, there are lots of visual novel – style CGs and character portraits, which have the full benefit of HD art. These are gorgeous, add a lot to the personalities of the characters, and they bring some nice variety to the presentation. A catchy, poppy soundtrack rounds this all out nicely.

Rabi-Ribi review

Rabi-Ribi is the first game I’ve played that truly makes the Metroidvania/bullet hell hybrid work. Not everyone will appreciate its silly plot or cute presentation, but for others – like me – that’s the icing on a cake that was very good to start with.

Rabi-Ribi is developed by CreSpirit and GemaYue, and is published by PQube. It’s available now for PC, and launches on September 1 for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita.

A press copy was supplied by the publisher for this review.

Matthew Codd

Matthew is a writer based in Wellington. He loves all things pop culture, and is fascinated by its place in history and the wider social context.