What Rick Henderson does right and what so few shooters manage to do today is that it provides a Zen-like moment when you suddenly realize that you are in the SHMUP (shoot ’em up) zone. When you’re transformed from a panicked underpowered little aluminum bucket to an unstoppable heap of pixel destruction, you know you’re playing a shooter that’s really, really good.
It’s the adrenaline equivalent of a runner’s high and many shooters like R-Type and Gradius had it in spades. And Rick Henderson from indie developer, Fat Plug Studios, is proving that they also have what it takes to compete with the big boys.
As usual, the structure of Rick Henderson is somewhat elegant in its simplicity. An evil force must be stopped, and so three pilots get together and form an unexpectedly powerful team by combining their unique skill sets. As there’s not much to the narrative of a game like this one, its success or failure comes down to gameplay execution.
You choose from one of three characters each with their own specific attributes. Rick Henderson is the preferred character/pilot by default, so I opted to go with him. The first few levels allow you to get familiar with the controls and nuances of the game. After you’ve completed a level, you are faced with the obligatory end-boss that you must vanquish in order to progress to the next zone.
Gems, perks, and powerups litter the field creating a unique experience since you can equip your weapons with enhancements to cause even more destruction. There’s also an RPG-lite element where you can choose what traits you want to upgrade. The game creates the kind of nostalgia I had as a teenager, playing through shooters at the local arcade. There are moments when it even stirs a little awe. Rick Henderson is a pure slam-bam-in-your-face space opera turned into epic battles. The only drawback is that the game is too short and a competent player can literally blast through the game pretty quickly.
Many of its galactic visuals are pleasant to the eyes in the same way photos of deep space are beautiful as they show a careful hand casting of colors and energy across the unimaginable expanses of space, using stars and nebulas as its backdrop.
The gameplay might be standard fare, yet it has the qualities that a good game can generate: It isn’t just action and warfare, but also a play of classic ideas. Many of its galactic visuals are pleasant to the eyes in the same way photos of deep space are beautiful as they show a careful hand casting of colors and energy across the unimaginable expanses of space, using stars and nebulas as its backdrop.
Rick Henderson as a shooter works because it doesn’t do more than what it sets out to do. There is a sense of wonder here and getting to the endgame is well worth the journey. I like the retro-inspired graphics because I believe it provides an additional dimension for its presentation as it frees the developer from the anchor of realism that’s built into 3D polygons and allows them to visualize their imaginations.
Rick Henderson was designed to totally immerse you in the experience and to make it irresistibly addictive. Whether you’re new to the shoot ’em up genre or a veteran looking to relive your best gaming moments, go ahead and give this game a shot. Slick Rick won’t disappoint.