29th Aug2017

‘Rabi-Ribi’ Review (PS4)

by Matthew Smail


In Rabi-Ribi, players control Erina, a so-called “Bunny Girl” who begins the game trapped inside a cardboard box, having been transformed from an actual bunny into her current, humanoid form. It’s a weird intro, and the very basic pixel art of the main game juxtaposes with the finely drawn, anime-style stills of Erina kneeling in the box in a slightly confused but nonetheless seductive pose with her butt in the air and her cleavage on show. This isn’t the last time in Rabi-Ribi that you’ll see such imagery either, with most of the (largely female) cast wearing swimsuits and adopting questionable poses throughout.

I am by no means a neo-feminist, and as a layman on the subject, I really have no idea how to interpret the way Rabi-Ribi portrays women. On the one hand, this is a world populated only by female characters, many of whom are powerful, independent thinkers – it also looks hot, so maybe swimsuits and boob-ribbons are simply de rigueuer. On the other hand, the iconic Bunny Girl imagery has overtly sexual connotations, and I can’t help but think that its use in Rabi-Ribi (which is undoubtedly aimed at a predominantly male market) is not intended as a powerful message of independence.

Why does this matter? Well, partly because Rabi-Ribi is actually a bloody good game, and it should appeal to a wide variety of people from adult men and women to much younger players. It conjures in me the same feelings of madcap exhilaration that I had as an eight year old when I first played Parodius on my NES. The problem is, whilst the in-game graphics are cute, obscure and pixelated representations of Erina and the other in game characters that do no harm, there’s always a risk of a Hentai-lite image popping up. As a result of that, I won’t play Rabi-Ribi with my own daughters, which is just a shame because I think they would have liked it!

The game itself is an inspired mix of styles that clearly borrows from elsewhere, but which feels entirely original when all the pieces come together. Every level is a non-linear, two dimensional platformer that is revealed in the style of a Metroidvania game. This means that players will need to revisit areas to collect every item and to access previously unreachable places using skills and abilities that are unlocked elsewhere.

Fighting is surprisingly competent for a platform game, and Erina has access to an ever-increasing arsenal of melee attacks that become more and more complex and impressive. Two of her earliest unlocks, for example, include a vertical attack not dissimilar to Ryu’s Shoryuken, and a matching downwards strike that is similar to – say – Scrooge McDuck’s pogo stick in Duck Tales, or the shovel attack in Shovel Knight. More and more attacks and combos are layered on top of these, and another early addition is that of Ribbon the fairy, who provides Erina with a choice of ranged attacks.

This ever expanding move set gives combat in Rabi-Ribi a distinct feel that is easy to learn and incredibly accessible, yet tough and rewarding to master. And to succeed in Rabi-Ribi across the five scalable difficulty levels will require mastery, because there are tens and tens of bosses and mini bosses to fight through, in addition to the usual rank and file enemies. What makes the game challenging (aside from the usual variable boss patterns and so on) is the next borrowed feature, which is that of bullet hell.

Basically every single boss has one or more special moves that require the player to recognise a pattern of lasers, bullets or similar and keep Erina out of harm’s way. Because of the platform game structure, there is slightly less freedom to move than you would expect in a bullet hell shooter of the traditional kind. As a result, boss battles in Rabi-Ribi require a mix of strategy and twitch reactions in order to be successful. I did feel like some boss fights verged on unfair, but the tight combat mechanics generally made me feel powerful enough to offset this feeling, and so it was never a cause of frustration for too long.

I already mentioned that Rabi-Ribi has aspects of Metroidvania in the way that levels are explored and built up, but that wouldn’t be much fun of the areas were uninteresting and lacking in variety. Thankfully, Rabi-Ribi does a decent job of offering up new biomes for the player to explore, although I will say that most of them are kind of bog standard. Over the course of her adventure (which is fairly sizeable as well) Erina will visit forests, caves, snowy plains and beaches, plus a variety of indoor locations, but none of them feel particularly alien. This is more a game about putting humanoid Bunny Girls into traditional places, rather than of taking the player into whatever neon nightmare you might think a Bunny Girl would hail from!

There’s no multiplayer in Rabi-Ribi which is a shame, but in all fairness I think it would have been difficult to implement given the Metroidvania style platforming. Currently (unless I’m missing something) there is also no way to play as anyone beside from Erina in the story mode, which I think is a huge missed opportunity. This might be because there is a ton of written story content that would need to be changed, but from my perspective it would be fine if that was just cut out.

On the note of story, yes there is one and yes, it’s delivered via reams and reams of text. Most of the dialogue is (to me at least) inane prattle between Erina and whatever baddie she happens to be facing off against, and I have to say that before the end of the game I was skipping large parts of the text. I may well have missed some key details, but in all fairness I feel broadly positive about Rabi-Ribi without having really enjoyed the story, so if you think that it will appeal to you, then it should only score higher in your eyes.

On that note, I think Rabi-Ribi is a really tight and well-made game, which has unfortunately been dressed up (or not, as the case may be) in artwork that I find a little questionable. It’s true that what someone is wearing is not confirmation of sexualisation or exploitation, but what they are wearing and the context of what they are doing might be.

In Rabi-Ribi, I just don’t understand why the Bunny Girl’s have to be in swimsuits, or why the fairies only wear strips of material over their chests. I don’t understand why the succubus character is practically naked either, confirming every genre trope ever about female vampires. You should consider buying Rabi-Ribi for its content, but at the same time, think carefully about how impressionable the people playing it might be, and maybe try it first.

**** 4/5

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