Red Ronin Review: Dashing Tiger Hidden Dragon

Overview

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Red Ronin claims to be a turn-based tactics game, but that title is disingenuous at best. Sure, the game is technically turn-based. But make no mistake, Red Ronin is without a doubt a puzzle game in the purest sense of the word. I’m highlighting that fact because if you go into the game with the wrong expectation, you’re going to have a very bad time.

Red Ronin’s puzzles are incredibly brutal. I think I died more in Red Ronin over the span of 8 hours than I have in every game released in the last decade combined. Luckily Red Ronin throws you right back into the game within a nanosecond. So you can hop right back to failing miserably at it. That’s what I did at least.

Every stage is an intense puzzle.

The thing about puzzle games is, I’m bad at them. And Red Ronin was not a kind and understanding sensei. Red Ronin’s gameplay is not an exercise in creativity, each room has a set answer for you to solve. Once you get the hang of swimming in its depths, it pushes you off a cliff around the midway point and tells you to fly instead.

Kill Bill Gideon

Each level has you dashing a vengeful Samurai named Red around maze-like rooms in an attempt to kill all the enemies and get to the exit. A single attack is enough to end you, and while Samurai are masters of the blade, the concept of walking seems to be beyond this one. Red dashes the entire distance of any direction you move her, only stopping if she hits an object.

Every level is a brain-melting challenge to be solved with that unique movement system. But Red has a few other tricks up her sleeve. By grabbing power-ups, she can freeze time for a turn, preventing her foes from moving. She can also set up points on the map that shift her movement in another direction. That allows you to set up sweet combos, and it feels good when a plan comes together.

Red can set up special arrows that change the direction she’s dashing in.

Each enemy moves after you do, and you have to work out the proper solution with your limited use of power-ups, the movement system, and any number of traps and hazards. The level design is seriously a masterclass. Every single puzzle in the game is incredibly clever. If you actually solve it, you want to scream out eureka due to the euphoria it invokes.

It’s not a feeling I felt often myself. I did actually, beat the game, but I honestly brute-forced it. I didn’t truly solve the puzzles. Basically, I memorized the right moves whenever I made the wrong one. I continually died over and over again while memorizing the puzzle one move at a time.

Do you know how Tom Cruise is completely out of his league fighting a war in Edge of Tomorrow? He eventually succeeds because the day resets when he dies. That was me in Red Ronin, except I died, a whole lot more. It more or less became a memory game for me. Most rooms have a single solution, or at least it seemed that way to me. I could eventually memorize the entire stage.

Red Ronin does reward you for the effort though, the action looks fantastic. Whenever you manage to do what the game is asking of you, the game treats you to slick sword-slashing animations, special effects, and nifty sounds.

Success depends on your ability to logically solve each stage, or at least remember every right move from past failures.

The game did a great job of making me look like a complete badass once I memorized enough of the right moves to beat a level. I’m definitely no ninja, but anyone watching would think I was a genius. Assuming they only ever saw the last attempt.

Red Ronin manages to feel fast-paced, despite being a puzzle game. The movement is swift, and the strikes lethal. The game nails the theme of exaggerated action scenes in samurai movies. Then around the midway point of the game, it becomes one.

The game just straight-up adds real-time elements within the turn-based framework. You still follow all the same rules, but some of the game elements don’t. You might have to dodge sniper bullets while solving the puzzle, for example. Some levels have an abstract timer in the form of a sweeping security laser, and the bosses all function in real-time.

On one hand, it definitely catches you off guard and keeps the game from growing stale. On the other hand, it pulls the rug from under you and relentlessly beats you with it. You spend half the game being allowed to ponder your moves as much as you want. The game doesn’t train you for that kind of urgency, so it pretty much left me a frantic mess darting all around the map while incoherently screaming.

A sniper boss that shoots in real time because my brain clearly didn’t hurt enough.

The game doesn’t change, each level still retains the same high-quality brain-melting nature. You just don’t have the kind of time you did before to deliberate. I haven’t encountered a twist like that in a long time, and it’s honestly brilliant, and I loved it. The boss fights are great, and that’s not something you expect to hear about in a puzzle game. At the same time, it’s definitely going to ruin it for people who wanted a comfy headscratcher.

It’s like booking a sauna, and halfway through the door opens up, and a hungry lion charges in. Exciting, to be sure, but not what you signed for.

The game does feature a story. Don’t expect anything award-worthy, but it’s interesting enough for a puzzler. It ends on a very unsatisfying cliffhanger though and is riddled with typos and spelling errors. In a game like Red Ronin, that doesn’t bother me. Although it does give the game an unpolished feel.

What did bother me was the fact that the game liked to hang after finishing a stage. Each time it happened I had to close it and start the game up again. I played on a Series X so it was lightning fast to restart, but every time it happened, I lost progress and had to replay the level.

The game loved to do it on particularly hard levels where I couldn’t remember the solution and after Boss fights. At one point, I had to survive a gauntlet of enemies, then fight a boss, and it hanged, forcing me to replay all of it again.

Imagine my shock when those Bomberman style skull icons didn’t wait until I took my turn to blow me up.

If looks could kill, my television would have been a pile of cinders. Some of those boss fights took me close to an hour because I suck. I ended them with sweaty palms and high blood pressure, only to have to retry it because of a technical failure.

The achievements were certainly bugged since I acquired a few I know I didn’t get, such as completing the game in one hour. I’ll take it as a peace offering for screwing me over so much. Never in my wildest dreams would I be able to get that achievement on my own.

Verdict

I really can’t understate how great the level design is. Every puzzle uses the game’s focused movement mechanics and powers-ups in wonderfully cohesive ways. Solving each challenge feels great, and you’re treated to great visuals and sound design through it all.

The game is fairly short unless you’re as bad as I am. It would probably average around 4 to 6 hours for fans of the genre. That’s not a lot of playtime, and it has no replay value, but Red Ronin is also inexpensive. The experience is a quality one, as far as gameplay is concerned, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome.

The story is passable, but the ending is a little lame.

The sloppy spelling and typos aren’t a great look, but really the only thing holding the game back is the technical issues that I experienced. Those can hopefully be ironed out. Although the real-time elements could prove divisive.

Red Ronin might not be the turn-based tactical game that its main menu implies, but it is a great puzzle game with a popping soundtrack, nice visual effects, and stellar level design. The real-time elements are really interesting and unique, even if it introduces them with all gentleness of a rampaging rhino. If the technical issues can be fixed, Red Ronin could certainly take a seat atop its throne of blood.

My Perspective

I don’t buy puzzle video games. I’m exceptionally bad at them, and I rarely get enjoyment from solving them. Red Ronin is one of the rare ones that I did enjoy playing. The level design is just that good. I could appreciate it all and have fun memorizing the sequences required to solve each stage. I’m not at all sad that it turned out to be a short game though, it wouldn’t have captivated me for much longer than it did.

That laser moves back and forth in real time and is deadly if you come in contact with it.

The real-time element was a sledgehammer to my knee, but it definitely made the game even more interesting. I do tend to look down on short games, but for $7.99 that’s just not happening, you can’t really beat that price.

The technical issues were bad, however, and if I’m being completely honest I wouldn’t have persevered if I wasn’t reviewing the game. As interesting as the levels and boss fights were, the magic is lost after struggling to beat them and immediately having that victory snatched from me due to the game hanging. If those issues are widespread or persist on platforms beyond the Series X, it will absolutely destroy the enjoyment of people playing it.

You might also enjoy my review of Chrono Ghost.