Rise & Shine feels like a game that knows what it wants to do and does it with confidence. Although not everything it attempts is successful, it gets enough right to justify its existence as a fun old-school shooter with a slight puzzle leaning, and some flaws.
The game’s presentation is a perfect example of the game’s confidence. From the opening title, it exhibits a beautifully crisp comic-book style that makes an eye-catching first impression. This is coupled with a quirky, memorable soundtrack that mixes heroic orchestral swells with electronic beats.
In Rise & Shine, you take on the role of Rise, an ordinary kid who, by way of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, is bestowed a powerful weapon by a Legendary Warrior. This weapon — a wise-cracking, self-aware handgun called ‘Shine’ — grants the bearer the power of unlimited respawns, not to mention packing a serious punch. This sets reluctant hero Rise on the path to freeing his homeworld of Gamearth from the evil invading forces of Nextgen.
In case you haven’t guessed yet, you don’t have to be a lifelong gamer to enjoy Rise & Shine, but it definitely helps. The game references everything from classic series like Mario and The Legend of Zelda to modern favorites like Portal and Gears Of War, with each playful homage fitting neatly into the Rise & Shine’s lore. The way these references link into the game’s setting is certainly clever, but it did get old, and I found the plot itself to be nothing particularly revolutionary. I’m sure there’s an element of knowingly playing on genre conventions, here -- there’s the standard villain, a damsel in distress of sorts, the comedy sidekick -- but frequently winking to the camera does not in itself make for an entertaining narrative, and that’s, unfortunately, the case here. It’s a shame the story is lacking because the way it’s told, through beautifully drawn comic-book style panels, is utterly charming and fits well with the overall feel and quality of the presentation.
Thankfully, whether you’re sold or not on the narrative, the gameplay is largely a success. You control Rise with the left stick, while using the right stick to aim with Shine and dispatch enemies as they appear. The game thrives on its extended bullet-hell type sequences which have you taking out masses of enemies while dodging their projectiles, but it’s also not afraid of mixing things up a bit with some classic learn-the-attack-pattern boss battles, cover-shooting set pieces, and even less predictable diversions such as a creepy bit of zombie survival.
Variety also comes in the form of a puzzle-solving component, which is by far the most innovative element of Rise & Shine, and the part I enjoyed most. Let’s say Rise’s progress through a level is halted by a locked door that only opens with the press of a button. And what if that button is a screen away, at the end of a series of maze-like tunnels which Rise can’t get through? That’s where the radio-controlled bullet-type comes into play. These can be maneuvered around scenery and through areas that can’t be navigated on foot, so are handy for hitting hard to reach buttons, switches and weak spots found on some enemies.
Initially a bit fiddly, when it clicks, the sense of satisfaction gained from solving each mini puzzle is unmatched in the rest of the game. There’s depth, too, with different bullet types. Electric bullets are great for taking out robotic enemies, for instance, but if you want to blast through some rubble blocking your bullet’s path, only standard physical bullets will do.
It’s lucky the diverse gameplay keeps things fresh, because you’ll need all your sharpness, and plenty of patience, to finish it: Rise & Shine is no walk in the park. The steep learning curve is apparent from the tough first boss battle, and moments like these, where the difficulty is suddenly ramped up enormously and without warning, are repeated throughout. I found these difficulty spikes to be frustratingly arbitrary and often felt just plain unfair. The fact is, Rise & Shine is the sort of game that takes pleasure in killing you, and there are many times where dying is not only inescapable but also necessary to progress. Various moments are set up so that only by dying and respawning can you work out how to master the situation. Once you realize that, it’s a little easier to bear, but sometimes, usually when you’ve died a thousand times trying to complete a two-minute section, it can wear a little thin. The undeniable sense of accomplishment when you crack a particularly troublesome part does help you forgive those moments of injustice, though.
Unfortunately another part of what makes Rise & Shine tricky is hard to forgive. Developers Super Awesome Hyper Dimensional Mega Team haven’t quite nailed the way Rise controls in the way I’d have liked for a game that relies so much on timing and inch-perfect skill. Much of the problem lies with the game’s shooting. Holding the left trigger to bring up Shine, then using the right stick to aim and the right trigger to fire seems perfectly suited for slower-paced action, but when the things get crazy (and they frequently do) it seems neither intuitive nor precise enough. Even by the end of my play-through, when I had mastered the game, I still didn’t feel like I could be confident of accurately taking down whatever foes the game threw at me. There’s also a bafflingly implemented reloading system. Once your magazine is empty, you must tap a button to reload, with discoverable power-ups increasing your overall clip size. Timing when to reload is crucial in the middle of a busy firefight, and it’s no doubt intended to add an extra layer of mid-battle strategy, but it seems out of place in this kind of fast-paced shooter and ends up being just one extra thing to have to worry about.
I took just over four hours for me to complete Rise & Shine whilst being careful to explore the game in its entirety, so I reckon it can be completed in three, even allowing for the ridiculous difficulty of the final boss (make sure you allow yourself extra time for that, whatever skill level you think you’re playing at). So it’s hardly a lengthy saga, but it’s not a full-priced release, so that’s expected.
If you can overlook the often cringe-worthy story and sporadic difficulty spikes, and fancy a blast of old-school hardcore shooter platforming with a strong visual aesthetic, Rise & Shine is certainly worth a look. The game’s variety is admirable, but for me, its innovation lies with its puzzling sections, and unfortunately, these didn’t come along quite often enough. That, coupled with a control system which could have been a notch tighter, especially for such a tricky game, means Rise & Shine, though enjoyable, misses out on being the first must-buy indie title of the year.
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