Kill Bill(ions Of Fools)
HIGH The first half.
LOW The timed levels.
WTF A confusing subplot involving another assassin.
Red Ronin positions itself as the perfect fit for people who yearn for the perfectionist angle of games like Hotline Miami and Katana Zero, but lack either the reflexes or the patience to carry it out in real-time. Ostensibly, it’s yet another action romp about an assassin who clears entire rooms while sustaining zero damage herself, but its turn-based structure brings it closer in spirit to a puzzle game.
Unfortunately, Red Ronin eventually betrays that trust and becomes exactly the sort of highly-demanding adrenaline rush that it initially pretended not to be, but there are some good times to be had before we get there.
Remember those puzzles in old Zelda games where we had to push a block across an icy floor, and every time we nudged it even slightly, it would slide in that direction until it hit a wall or obstacle? Red Ronin is basically that, but considerably bloodier. Our protagonist, Red, can zip from one end of a room to another from a 2D perspective, effortlessly slicing through guards along the way.
There’s no attack button – any enemies that stand between the player’s starting point and destination during a given move will find themselves automatically bifurcated. True to the spirit of a Hotline Miami-like, players die in a single hit, but since Red kills anyone she passes, she’s only vulnerable when she lands next to an enemy. As such, the trick is to maneuver in such a way so that she always comes to a stop in a safe location. Guards will always gravitate towards Red and move one space at a time, making it easy to predict the flow of each encounter, and the turn-based angle gives players time to plan their routes.
Again, it’s very much like a puzzle game for a while, albeit one that’s a bit more open-ended than usual. There are very often clear ‘lines’ through rooms that players are meant to follow for the most efficient killing sprees, but they’re rarely set in stone. Players can collect power-ups to either freeze time or redirect Red in mid-dash, and it’s often possible to clear a room without using all of them, in which case they can be carried forward to subsequent encounters. It’s a lovely little reward for being one step ahead of the developers.
Narratively, the question of who Red is assassinating was somewhat lost on me. The game shares a lot of surface-level similarities with Katana Zero – up to and including the between-chapter interludes wherein players retreat to a dingy apartment and get TV news updates – but don’t expect the same level of attention to be paid to Red Ronin’s plot. We get very little to chew on, and that’s ultimately okay – developer Thiago Oliveira’s priorities simply lie elsewhere.
While the script wasn’t ultimately a concern for me, bigger issues arrive when Red Ronin begins inserting real-time elements into its well-established turn-based structure.
It starts out well enough with the fantastic Priest boss battle. During the fight, the arena is repeatedly carpet bombed, so while we’re chasing our target around the screen, we also need to keep out of designated (and constantly-changing) danger zones. It works because there’s no specific route we’re meant to be taking and no limit to how much time we have. We’re simply tasked with staying on the move. As a one-off gimmick, it would have been brilliant.
Unfortunately, some of the later chapters add an annoying ticking-clock element to the design. In one mission, a sniper sight will repeatedly dolly back and forth across the screen, shooting players down in an instant if they’re not behind cover when it passes (even if they’re caught in mid-dash). In another level, a big laser sweeps across each room after a few moments, effectively slapping a time limit onto every encounter.
Those who came for the puzzle equivalent of Hotline Miami will likely be soured when Red Ronin cranks up the pressure in the second half of its campaign, and even speaking as someone who generally enjoys the kill-die-repeat loop of similar titles, this is the poor man’s version of it. In something like Ghostrunner, the natural imperfections in my reflexes add an element of randomness and improvisation to subsequent attempts, even when I’m going through the same basic motions. In contrast, getting through Red Ronin is a simple matter of pressing the directional buttons in the right order, over and over. Getting genuinely stuck during these later sequences has all of the excitement of opening a combination lock.
I’d love to give Red Ronin a stronger recommendation since some of the opening levels provided a fresh spin on a subgenre that many people find too daunting. In fact, the game launched at such a low price that I’d still urge curious parties to check it out, if only to experience the fleeting brilliance of the first half. Unfortunately, whatever players are looking for in Red Ronin, they’ll likely only get an incomplete version of it.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Thiago Oliveira and published by Wired Dreams Studio. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately seven hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Animated Blood, Fantasy Violence and Violent References. The only ESRB information I could find was on the game’s Steam page, and I’m wondering if it’s out of date, as people are regularly sliced in half in Red Ronin and the dialogue is littered with F-bombs. This game should clearly have a “Mature” rating.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All dialogue is text-based and audio cues play zero vital role in the game. It’s fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.
He was born and raised in Amish country and has yet to escape, despite a brief stint in Philadelphia, where he attended Temple University. He took a one-credit course there called "Career Opportunities for English Majors," which painted a bleak picture for prospective writers. Mike remains steadfast in his ongoing role as a video game critic, however, and has recently written for GamesRadar. Most of his work can be found on HonestGamers, where he has contributed over 200 reviews to date.
When not playing games or writing about them, Mike is a rabid indie music fan and ardent concertgoer. He doesn't read as much as he probably should, but his current favorite author is Alastair Reynolds.