ReCore has been a highly-anticipated Xbox One console exclusive since it was first shown off. The mix of fast action and shooting looked addictive, and Joule’s robot dog sidekick Mack stood out. It came off as a bit of Mega Man merged with Metroid Prime, and the end game holds true to that concept – with some interesting wrinkles to help it stand out from any entry in either of those beloved franchises.
ReCore begins with Joule waking up from cryosleep to find that the world is covered in sand and populated by robots that are seemingly out to kill her. Mack acts as her version of Rush, with digging skills that can be used to find items in the world. In order to defend them, Joule has a variety of tools at her disposal – with the most-used being a variety of blasters. By default, RT will shoot a target aimed at with the right stick. However, survival will depend on your accuracy – so keeping your sights locked-on with LT is a big key to success.
Color polarity also plays a part in things – like Ikaruga. If you have a white-cored enemy, attacking with the white laser blaster is a better idea. Conversely, if their cores are red, hit the d-pad and blast away there. When an enemy gets low on health, a mini-game pops up where you have to pull their core out from their abdomens. Clicking in the right stick unleashes a grappling hook and moving the right stick towards Joule moves the core closer to her. It’s a bit like fishing and you need to mind the tension on the hook – if it turns red, ease up and then wait for things to go neutral before moving the stick again. Basic enemies are pretty easy to topple with this, while bosses are harder and they will also regenerate health after you fail.
You won’t have to worry about death a lot in the game since unlike any Mega Man or Metroid adventure, you do have regenerating health. The original Metroid was one of the best games ever at evoking a sense of complete isolation – and ReCore comes very close to replicating that. Joule has no one she can physically rely on outside of Mack. Her father appears as a hologram dispensing wisdom, akin to Dr. Light in Mega Man X games as he’s long-gone. She is just left with a world she doesn’t fully understand and one that is ever-changing thanks to the sand-based Far Eden constantly changing shape and form with every new distress signal she receives.
Comcept has crafted a memorable experience mixed in with some flawed concepts. The map system here is largely outstanding from a big picture point of view. Green markers keep you on a given path, while the pause button map system is strictly overhead and does work, but not as well as maps in either Super Metroid or Metroidvania games. If you’re finishing up an area and just want to know where you should go next though, things can get a bit murky. It’s not a huge issue in a dungeon since you can only go so many places, but between dungeons, things can get annoying. There’s no mini-map on-screen, and bringing up the map each time you need it can be a bit of a pain. This doesn’t add a ton of wasted time in one play session, but over the course of the game it adds up.
Joule’s attacks are simple to learn, but have some quirks to learn. Going between the RB charge blast and the default RT basic shot is something you’ll want to do to maximize your combos. While this isn’t a DmC or Bayonetta score attack-style game, you do get XP rewards for skillful play. Joule’s stats aren’t going to mean the difference between life and death, but it does feel good to be rewarded for high-level play. Boosts will come a bit faster, and the more boosts you have, the more things you can craft.
Much like Samus’s ship, Joule has a home base in her craft that acts as a hub. She can fix up Mack, upgrade him, or forge new items from things found within dungeons. The dungeon structure is a mix of the 3D Legend of Zelda games and Metroid – giving you a steady sense of progression throughout. They start off easy enough and then things ramp up with more enemies, tougher puzzles, and some devilish boss battles. Boss areas only give you so much room to move, so you need to fight smart and figure out which method is the best for each. Sometimes, combining charge shots and basic shots will work. Other times, you’ll need to combine those with her aerial skills and use her dash alongside the double jump to avoid things in mid-air.
Visually, ReCore looks impressive – but does have a few drawbacks. While the sand-heavy world is jaw-dropping when sandstorms whisk sand all over the place, it is prone to a bit of slowdown from time to time. Joule’s animations are solid, but not amazing – they get the job done perfectly though and do make timing her attacks and jumps easy to do. You don’t have to worry about needless frames of animation slowing down the regularly-fast pace, but the camera can veer all over the place. Sometimes, it will get stuck behind walls or large obstacles. This is especially true in close-quarters boss battles, where you have only a circular battle area to work with and you can wind up being blinded by the scenery.
Luckily, when the camera isn’t in the way, the environments are gorgeous. Texture work is impressive and there’s a lot of detail to every area you’re in. Dungeons stand out nicely thanks to different lighting setups used in each room – so the common problem of every corridor feeling the same is largely avoided. Outside of that, there’s impressive sense of scale during boss battles and when they bring underlings to fight, you really gain an appreciation for how small Joule is compared to both regular enemies and the bosses.
Musically, ReCore doesn’t stand out nearly as much as one might hope. A game like this relies on haunting music, and while the soundtrack delivers that – none of it sticks with you after playing. It’s a real shame too because some of the music really does add a sense of isolation to things. The soundtrack achieves a high mark, but doesn’t reach the levels of being a classic that you’ll want to listen to for years to come. The sound effects are outstanding though – with blasts sounding violent, and the sound of enemies tearing apart from their impact is visceral. The voice acting is solid and never steps into melodrama, which is a huge win given that everything is played straight and bad voice work would kill the narrative.
Overall, ReCore is a must-have for anyone who loves third-person action-adventure gaming. It combines some of the best elements of Metroid and Mega Man and blends them together seamlessly. Other than camera problems and occasionally excessive load times, ReCore is an exciting experience and one of the Xbox One’s best action games. It’s a shame that it seems destined to be a sleeper hit because it will certainly be overshadowed in a dense holiday season – but those with a zest for action should give it a shot.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
This review is based on a digital copy of ReCore for the Xbox One provided by Microsoft Studios.