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River Tails: Stronger Together Early Access Review

River Tails: Stronger Together is a co-op adventure platformer developed by Italian indie duo Kid Onion Studio and published by Gravity Games Arise in Tokyo. It launched on Steam early access on March 16, 2023, and is a beautifully designed puzzle game. It’s been designed to be played in two-player local co-op but can also be played solo where you play both characters on a single controller. There is no support for keyboard and mouse at this stage. It’s one of the most cleverly designed co-op games I have played, and it really tested my hand-eye coordination as I predominantly played the game solo.

River Tails: Stronger Together tells the story of two unlikely friends, a cat called Furple and a fish called Finn. Journeying through beautiful natural-world environments, Furple and Finn will have to learn to work together if they don’t want to lose the things they love most. There is no voice acting but the intro cinematic and occasional cutscenes do a well enough job to give you the story beats to continue forward. The evironments we explore are cartoony yet well detailed and the water looks fantastic with little waterfalls and banks that Finn needs to jump over.

Furple the cat cannot swim, at all, not even a little bit. As soon as you fall into the water, you reset back to the previous checkpoint. Similarly, Finn the fish cannot survive on land and as soon as you can’t even survive a single bounce off a log or platform. So both characters are reliant on each other to move forward. The two characters are tethered so as they spread apart, the camera pans to an isometric viewpoint and both characters must move forward together. This can make traversing some sections difficult as I wrestled with the camera. Thankfully there are checkpoints placed well enough apart to be saviours.

I played the game in solo lone wolf mode and wow, it was a mix of fascination, frustration and wonder. It’s the first time I have played such a game with a single controller. The left stick moves Furple, left button will jump (hold to jump slightly higher) and left trigger will activate water gate so Finn can swim through a blockage. For Finn the fish, the right side of the controller is used and right stick would have him pull a vine to raise a log platform for Furple to jump to. At first movement and jumping was fine. I would move one character far enough forward and then bring the other forward. All the while we are collecting radishes both on land and in the water, and we also occasionally find rainbow bird friends to collect.

A little into the first river/forest area, we come across piranhas who will attack Finn on sight. To counter this, we need to bring Furple up close to Finn and this scares the piranhas back. Here you need to carefully move both characters forward. Eventually I came across areas where Finn’s progress was blocked by a water gate. Positioning Furple above the gate, using left trigger allows me to hold the gate open for Finn to swim through. Similarly, Finn can grab vines that will raise log platforms, allowing Furple to jump across large gaps. The second area has frogs that are out to spoil Furple’s fun as we leap try to avoid them.

Where I struggled the most as a solo player was when both characters were required to assist the others with blockages. I would hold open a floodgate as Furple so Finn could gain access to a vine. Finn would need to pull the vine, so the platform raises to its highest point. I would let go and the platform would slowly drop. Meanwhile as Furple, I hold the watergate open so Finn can return, then quickly jump across the lowering platform to get across a gap. At the same time Finn needs to swim across to another vine, pull that while I am trying not to let Furple fall into the water to jump to the final platform. It gets incredibly stressful really quickly playing solo, so make sure you’re prepared. Two players are so much better, and I did eventually end up getting my wife to help me with the puzzles I got stuck on solo.

Aside from the uniqueness of playing both characters on a single controller, for me the highlight of River Tails: Stronger Together is the graphics and level design. The bright colours of the environments and level of detail of the water is aesthetically pleasing and gameplay is fluid. The soundtrack is also matches the quirky and inquisitive nature of tackling these well designed and challenging puzzles. You can certainly see this is a passion project for the developers at Kid Onion Studio.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the simple yet challenging gameplay, all wrapped in a beautiful world to explore. It was unique for me to control both characters on the same controller which created some intense and frustrating moments, but once you manage to put it all together, it’s a rewarding experience. I am very much looking forward to the full release to see the partnership of Furple and Finn come to fruition.

This early access review utilised a key provided by Gravity Games Arise. River Tails: Stronger Together is currently in early access on Steam with two worlds to explore, each with three levels. The full game is looking to release around Q3, 2023 with development also planned for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation and Xbox.


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