Developed by Spacewave Software Published by Degica Games Reviewed on Nintendo Switch (also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Steam)
Shoot-‘em-ups traditionally pit players against waves of enemies and bullets, but every so often a game attempts to break the mold. Enter Rival Megagun, which pits two players in split-screen head-to-head combat. While it features an established shoot-and-dodge flow, its versus shoot-‘em-up action features multiple attack patterns, light resource management, and intense transformations. Rival Megagun features accessible mechanics, a compellingly crafted retro-styled universe, and intense back-and-forth matches, but it also feels a tad light on content.
Rival Megagun depicts the belligerent Harvesters as they invade Earth in the year 2000. After Earth is unable to mount a successful counterattack, the Harvesters quickly usurp control over its resources. With its resources dwindling and its future uncertain, Earth stages the Rival Megagun contest to select a spacefaring champion. The unlikely six participants include an arcade aficionado to a retired supervillain, and everyone has a motive for taking on the Harvesters. Naturally, however, the contest has a fun little twist awaiting the winner.
While fundamentally similar to many other shoot-’em-ups, Rival Megagun features a variety of ways to inflict damage on foes. It uses a four-button scheme involving primary fire, bombing, special attacks, and transforming. Each player occupies half of the screen, and the objective is to deplete the other player’s life. Since each player can only withstand two hits before exploding, the stakes can feel a little overwhelming. Waves of enemies attack each player, and creating a sizable “chain” through constant back-to-back destruction will spawn additional foes on the enemy side. Defeating foes also boosts the Attack Gauge. Players can expend small amounts of the gauge to perform a character-specific special move such as homing missiles, laser walls, and drones that attack the enemy from behind. Expending an entire gauge initiates a Mega Gunship transformation that unleashes overwhelming amounts of firepower onto the enemy field. These options empower players, but it can take a little while to become accustomed to everyone’s firepower.
The game’s modes include arcade, local versus, and online versus, which are standard fare. An arcade mode run involves picking a character and battling the other five characters alongside other surprises. While the number of fights may seem small, the AI can be surprisingly challenging even on Normal and especially on higher difficulty levels. It can take quite a bit of persistence to conquer each stage. Occasionally spawning power-ups can heal damage, make chaining easier, and grant screen-clearing bombs, which can create some back-and-forth momentum. Arcade mode features extensive amusing dialogue between each pair of characters. The light-hearted taunts and exaggerated declarations add charm to the voyage. The local versus and online versus options feature a handful of customization options that feel straightforward and functional.
One aspect that feels slightly arbitrary is unlocking gear and cards. The game provides the opportunity to customize character loadouts and fill slots, but the unlock conditions are not immediately apparent. These loadouts can be toggled on and off in versus matches, which is a welcome option. Using characters and playing for extended periods of time can unlock corresponding lore cards that are quite interesting to read, but the unlock conditions also seem obtuse.
One of the game’s most endearing aspects is how it provides a retro-styled experience full of pixel art and synth-driven audio. The character and background pixel art seem reminiscent of the 16-bit or 32-bit game era, but the sprites’ sheer size provides a new experience altogether. The six characters as well as their respective ships feel distinct, and the Mega Gunship transformations are similarly spectacular to behold. Another fun aspect is how the backgrounds are comprised of unique assets that really convey the feeling of venturing into space. While the bullets are generally quite readable, the backgrounds can occasionally interfere with mid-match visibility. The synth-heavy tunes feel like a callback to the ’90s, which provides quite a bit of endearing high-octane charm. Furthermore, the sound design is satisfying as destroying enemies plays resounding explosions, and being at critical life plays a distinct siren that serves as a helpful cue.
Rival Megagun is a fun take on the shoot-’em-up genre that can especially provide dynamic back-and-forth matches with a friend. While the game does provide a single-player experience full of fun dialogue, it feels somewhat basic and the AI opponents may take some persistence to defeat. The craftsmanship is nonetheless respectable, and the versus mechanics will entertain anyone interested in experiencing the shoot-’em-up genre under a new light.