Review: Grapple Force Rena
Review copy provided by developer
Git gud. I can think of no more insipid phrase in gaming than that, an empty-headed indictment of the player for finding fault in a game. But while the indictment may be faulty, there is a kernel of truth to the notion that the better you are at a game, the more fun you’ll have with it. Grapple Force Rena feels like a prime example of this, because I’m pretty sure if I had struggled less with the (perfectly fine) grappling controls, I would have been more engaged in the early stages. And as it turns out, I didn’t even need to git gud to enjoy this one, because the quality takes a turn for the exceptional if you can stick it out long enough.
Young Rena is adventurous village girl blessed with a strange gift, a pair of magic bracers that grapple things for her and her alone. She fancies herself a hero, but doesn’t get to test that notion until a cadre of inhuman soldiers shows up to ransack her town. After fighting them off, she embarks on a journey to find their source, and perhaps the origin of her bracers. Little does she know that she’s biting off way more than that, with conspiracies afoot, worlds hanging in the balance, and new allies and foes at every turn. Rena’s dreams of being a hero will be put to the test, but with enough resolve she might just see them come true.
The centerpiece of Grapple Force Rena is obviously her grappling bracers, and just about all the action in the game revolves around them. The controls are blessedly simple, with left stick moving Rena around, right stick aiming her grapple, right bumper firing the grapple, and left bumper jumping. This setup is what makes all her acrobatic moves possible, whether it be swinging along ceilings to build momentum or looping around edges to reach higher platforms. Rena can hook onto walls and wall jump as well, which leaves very few places in the game unreachable. And lest you think a magic grapple isn’t much of a weapon, she can grab foes (or part of them) and smash them around until they stop getting up.
Simple controls don’t mean it’s easy to get around, though. Having the freedom to grapple and swing anywhere also means you need the wits to actually use them, aiming your grapple at key points and releasing where your momentum will carry you the furthest. I started out with baby swings and slow crawls up walls, which the game doesn’t punish but left me a little cold on the controls. I got a slightly better hang of it by the midpoint of the game, and while I never became the Attack on Titan-esque flying god I wanted to be, I can tell you with certainty the controls are not at fault for my poor showing. You can definitely get up significant heads of speed, and in one vertical level I actually managed to skip a fair bit of it with a sudden bout of clever swinging.
Even if you can’t master the controls, though, you really owe it to yourself to check out the story. Again, I was a bit cold on the whole thing starting out, with a pretty basic hero’s journey laid out before me. Levels have specific objectives like defeating monsters or finding things that helped vary them up, but the levels themselves seemed a little bland and some gimmicks like the pinball level felt out of place. All that changed around the middle of the game, and I won’t spoil what happens but it takes the story in an entirely new direction and seems to punch up the level design and dialog at the same time. I was incredibly impressed with how the game shaped up, enough that I went from passing interest to absolutely riveted by the end.
Six areas with five levels each will keep you busy for a good long while, especially when you factor in hidden collectibles and a speedrun mode to challenge. The game has some robust options as well, including an Assist Mode for grappling around that I probably should have swallowed my pride to use. On top of it all is a bright, colorful pixel art style that fits the upbeat tone of the game perfectly, along with a banging soundtrack that places the game square in retro Genesis territory. You’ll need to put some effort into learning to grapple here but it’s 100% worth it, because Grapple Force Rena is one of the most fun indie platformers to come around lately.