ReCore’s ingredients are comfortingly familiar. Squint and you’d be forgiven for mistaking protagonist Joule for Star Wars newcomer Rey: both women are of a similar age and share both a style (brown, sweeping headscarf; forehead-mounted goggles), a vocation (scavenger of scrapped technology) and a love of mechanical companions. Joule’s planet, Far Eden, is as sandblasted and sweltering as Jakku, pocked with Zelda-esque dungeons, each of which must, as in Miyamoto’s classic adventure series, be salvaged and solved, usually before a final face-off with a towering boss. Joule’s weapon niggles at foes like a Gears Of War machine gun, while her trusty robot dog, Mack, can be ordered to sniff, dig and attack as in Fable et al.
In the finer details, however, this game, which brings together the talents of Mega Man creator Keija Inafune and those of Armature Studio, whose staff previously worked on the Metroid Prime series, is entirely its own. Sufficiently deplete the health of one of the robots that spring from the desert sands, for example, and you’re able to fire a hookshot into its frame, in a tug-of-war bid to yank one of the titular cores from the beast. Manage to harvest the core and, back at the workbench in your ship, you can upgrade Mack or one of the other helpers in your growing collection of robots (only one of which can be taken with you on a mission at a time) with new parts and abilities.
Mechanical parts (old servos, pistons, rivets and so on) can be found lying around the desert or, if you choose to blast away at a foe rather than aim for its core, harvested from enemies. These prove essential components when it comes to building Mack and the others a new set of powerful legs, or a smarter head. In this way the game quickly establishes an alluring rhythm as you explore, collect and upgrade your minions. ReCore does a good job of contextualising all this mechanic busywork too. Joule’s awakened from a long slumber to find New Eden deserted and her father missing. Despite the absence of other humans, through a mixture of camaraderie and companionship, she manages to establish a close connection to her robotic brethren, her one-sided conversations brought to emotive life by Erika Soto’s bright performance.
Nobody could accuse ReCore of skimping on ideas. The snippy, sometimes balletic combat is given further texture by the fact Joules’ gun can fire four types of coloured ammo, each one strong against enemies of the same colour, and with the potential to to inflict status effects on those of a different colour (eg red ammunition may set a blue enemy on fire and so on). There are some ingenious platforming puzzles too, the likes of which have long fallen from fashion yet here prove their enduring worth. The execution of its bounty of ingenious riches is, at times, scrappy, an unrefinement further undermined by lingering load times, and the occasional fatal bug.
ReCore is something of a throwback to the long-departed mid-budget action games of a decade ago — no great surprise considering its lineage. Its building blocks are familiar and nostalgic but lack the finesse of today’s multi-million dollar blockbusters. Nevertheless, for a game obsessed with utilitarian engineering and workshop tinkering, it has a surprisingly affecting heart. It’s a game for players who are willing to invest in — and, in Mack’s case, to take the time to upgrade — an underdog.
An inconsistent, often unrefined game, ReCore nevertheless bristles with ingenuity. Its world is alluring, its robot-modifying mechanic compelling, its combat rich and its story ably told.