ReCore has remained an interesting curio since its announcement at E3 2015. Ostensibly headed up by ex-Capcom man Keji Inafune, its enticing east-meets-west style and combination of acrobatic space-girl and robot dog has proved an intriguing combination. But the real flavour of the game hasn’t been made entirely clear.
Now, however, it has. Because the game’s demo at Gamescom 2016 brought its essence into clear focus. Because ReCore is now unmistakably a Zelda game, albeit one made for the Xbox One, and without Nintendo. Lack of official ties aside, the game’s lineage and intent are clear. Trust me on this one, abstracted though the concept might be, the feel is very, very authentic indeed. There are five big reasons for this. These are those reasons.
This is the big one. The one that defines all the points to follow. While Mega Man creator Keji Inafune has largely been ReCore’s public face, Inafune’s Comcept is co-developing the game with American studio Armature. Armature was founded by a director, art director, and technology engineer from Retro Studios. Retro Studios is best known for creating the Metroid Prime series for the Nintendo Gamecube and Wii. And, with its blend of open-world exploration, ability-gated traversal puzzles, and big old boss fights, Metroid has always been Nintendo’s space-Zelda. And Armature is not holding back about its heritage with regard to ReCore.
It’s an open subject throughout my demo, and while Metroid is the obvious point of reference, Zelda’s historical influence on both Retro’s series and ReCore is obvious. The third-person perspective. The vast swathes of open landscape. The intricate, non-linear design threaded through that huge world, and the ways that you’ll navigate it. It’s all as Zelda as could be without invoking a frown from the Big N. So let me get into all of that in a bit more detail…
One of the most affecting elements of Zelda games is the way that your growing inventory of weapons, gadgets and tools ultimately becomes part of your persona. The likes of hook-shots, boomerangs, bows and bombchus aren’t the usual incremental upgrades and tactical tweaks. There’s none of your half-arsed, ‘+4% accuracy to scoped fire’ nonsense here. They fundamentally change the way that you can interact with and access the world around you, and so they fundamentally change the way you see that world, and the way you see yourself. Zelda games aren’t just about exploration. They’re about a sense of personal growth. And so you get really attached to your gear. It becomes an inseparable part of you.
ReCore, by simple nature of following Zelda’s item-locked exploration model, looks to replicate that in spades. But it also hints at a second level of the phenomenon. You see you don’t actually upgrade protagonist Joule at all in ReCore. All of her abilities come with discovering, befriending, and upgrading various CoreBots, the customisable AI cores - with interchangable robot bodies - that help you directly in traversal and combat. You will literally build a relationship with your equipment.
And it’s not just the sentience of your gear that will do it. ReCore’s upgrade system allows you to mod and rework any bot you have the resources to work on - all body frames have fundamental purposes, such as heavy destruction, or flight, or the ability to interact with certain pieces of equipment, but you can tweak and tune them up in whatever way you see personally fitting. Want your ape-like heavy Bot to have hammers for hands? You can entirely do that. And don’t forget that the AI cores exist separately from the body frames they inhabit at any given time, and come with their own upgrade paths. Thus, you can modify any AI’s inherent stats, and then transfer it to a totally different body for brand-new effects, changing that machine class’ personality at the same time.
It’s an unmistakable feeling. As Joule steps out from the stranded vehicle she’s made home, that ‘just left the starting area in Zelda’ feeling pours out of the screen in waves. The sudden burst of light and space, as the ground spreads out around you, hitherto unseen, organic shapes replacing rigid, man-made structures as all is suddenly sky and landscape. Canyon walls and hilly vantage points tease the path to even more freedom just a little further ahead. Insurmountable columns and ridges, that feel suspiciously surmountable due to their rather platform-like placings near each other. The sense that if you can work out how, there’s a route there.
And of course, once you do, once you see your surroundings from a new, previously impossible angle, your perception of everything, and your place in it, will instantly change. Because…
Yup, the use of gear feels exactly like Zelda too. Following a brief battle with a mob of robot enemies - which, although gun-based, uses a very familiar blend of lock-on targeting, close-range combat, and evasive dashes and rolls - Joule starts exploring the immediate vicinity. She’s surrounded by the aforementioned insurmountables, but after a few moments’ investigation, their nature rapidly changes.
With Seth, the robo-spider Bot, now equipped with the ability to crawl up certain vertical surfaces, marked with specific metal plates that also function as tracks - Metroid Prime’s Morph Ball, anyone? - she can grapple on to him and hitch a lift up to the top. When se reaches the peak of her vertical jaunt? One of those pillars does indeed become a platform. And atop it is a chest. And even better, from this position, looking down upon the canyon rather than up from its base, everything transforms. Suddenly those possibly maybe platforms become obvious, connected routes, with a clear path and flow-through. And the best part? A certain viewing angle reveals something previously invisible at their end. A huge, locked door, built into the cliff-face. That right there will be a legitimate, Zelda-style dungeon. And ReCore has a lot of them.
Composing ReCore’s soundtrack is Chad Seiter. He might not have written Zelda’s original music - that, as is the case with many classic Nintendo soundtracks, is the work of Koji Kondo - but he has done the next-best thing. As well as writing several game scores and the music for a huge number of movies, he arranged the music for Nintendo’s ongoing, live Zelda concert tour, entitled Symphony of the Goddess.
Now Seiter is a versatile composer, who’s worked on everything from Call of Duty to Star Trek, so it’s doubtful - for that reason and many others - that he’ll exactly be cloning the Zelda sound here. But he is clearly intimately familiar with the series’ auditory feel, and with ReCore’s design being so au fait with the gameplay equivalent, his inclusion on the team is a very tantalising prospect indeed.