A unique vertical shooter that doesn’t quite stick the landing.
Rival Megagun is another vertical shooter, or shoot-‘em-up, that has just landed on Switch. What sets this game apart from others in the genre is that each level is played as a competition between two pilots where you have the ability to launch missiles and other weapons at your opponent and even teleport over to their screen as a boss ship. While the versus mechanic of Rival Megagun is a neat trick, it doesn’t quite nail the shooter gameplay at its core.
You start out by choosing Arcade, Versus, or Online Battle modes. In Arcade, a loose storyline about aliens who have invaded Earth drives everything forward in addition to a competition among pilots for cash prizes and the opportunity to defeat the invaders, thus becoming the planet’s saviour. Across seven brief stages (and an extra hidden stage), you take on fellow pilots and enemy ships. The final stage consists of a full-screen fight against an alien boss ship. Completing a run through this mode can be done in under 20 minutes, but there are four difficulty modes, online leaderboards, unlockable gear for your ships, and collectable cards. Versus mode allows you to play locally against another person or CPU, or watch two CPUs fight against each other. Online Battle has a Quick Match option for seeking out a random player to compete with, but I was only able to find one game in the handful of times I tried this option. There was no lag or anything, but you may be hard pressed to find competition. You also have the option of playing against a friend online.
For the gameplay, the controls are simple and the mechanics easy to grasp. Like most vertical shooters, you have a variety of pilots and ships to choose from that have slightly different main weapons. You are equipped with a single screen-clearing bomb but can acquire up to three. The screen is divided vertically, with each pilot facing their own enemies. By destroying these minor enemies, you charge up a meter that allows you to attack your opponent across the screen. You charge the meter by chaining together your destruction of the smaller enemies and when you fill the meter you can transform into a Mega Gunship, teleport to your opponent’s side, and use a variety of special attacks to take them down. This aspect of Rival Megagun is really enjoyable; it’s fun to be on the other side of the equation for a change.
Unfortunately, the basic shoot-’em-up sections are fairly boring at the Easy and Normal difficulties, and because you only have half a screen in which to maneuver, the Hard and Very Hard difficulties can be frustrating. Playing mostly on Normal, I found a distinct lack of enemies and because of this I was rarely able to create longer combo chains and quickly fill up my attack meter. There are no power-ups in the levels that improve your weaponry; instead, you randomly unlock gear that you can equip in the main menu before starting a new Arcade mode run or for use in Versus. The three items that you can pick up only repair damage to your ship, give you an extra bomb, or let you maintain a combo for a little bit longer. It would have been nice if the shooting, which forms the base of the game, were a little more engaging.
Each of the six pilots has a different backstory and dialogue that changes based on your opponent and these add a little bit of color and humor to the game. The soundtrack is pretty standard fare, but it fits well with the action and sci-fi setting. Visually, Rival Megagun has a bright and vibrant 2D aesthetic, but the backgrounds of each stage are uninspired, perhaps intentionally so. At the higher difficulty levels especially, this is a bullet hell game after all. Still, in a game with so few stages, you are going to be seeing a lot of them, so the plain backgrounds don’t help the replay value.
While I enjoyed running through Arcade mode a bunch of times and trying out the different pilots, they don’t play all that differently from each other—until you transform into a Mega Gunship, that is. The competitive aspect of Rival Megagun works really well, and shooter fans who are interested in the local competitive experience might find a lot to like about this game. The online leaderboards and collectable cards add some long-term play, too. However, the lack of players online, the random unlocks, and the pedestrian shoot-‘em-up stages leave a lot to be desired. Some may find good value here, but I can’t wholeheartedly recommend Rival Megagun to a general Switch audience.