Platforms: PC, Xbox One and PS4
Reviewed On: PC
Developer: Super Mega Team
Publisher: Adult Swim Games
Review copy supplied free of charge by the publisher.
When it comes to falling in love it’s who the person is on the inside that captures our heart, but we’d only be fooling ourselves not to admit that pure physical beauty plays a large part in the process. It’s so easy to be lured in by a stunning style, a pleasing body and an enchanting face, only to find that the person inside just isn’t quite what you’re looking for.
Rise and Shine might just be one of the most beautiful games in recent memory. The last time I saw a color palette this vivid was when my three-year-old niece decided to paint using every shade imaginable, including many that I’m absolutely sure didn’t exist previously. The game world is simply flooded with rich colors and a stunning level of detail. Regardless of anything else I might say if you’re an aficionado of videogame art you might just want to pick this one up and soak it all in. It is eye candy of the most delectable kind and I simply cannot say enough good things about the game’s artists. This style meshes with me so perfectly that I kind of want to bribe them into painting my PC’s white case. I’m willing to offer Jelly Babies, if you’re reading this.
The music and audio are great, too, with some lovely backing music that while occasionally missing the emotional beats being shown is still a treat for the ears.
You’ll be playing as hoodie-wearing kiddo Rise while his home planet Gamearth (yup) is under attack from generic space grunts from Nexgen. No, really, they are referred to as space grunts, they are indeed deliberately generic and their home is planet Nexgen. After witnessing the death of a very familiar legendary warrior you acquire a pistol by the name of Rise, which is fully sentient and rather chatty. Unsurprisingly your goal is to save planet Gamearth from destruction at the hands of the invading enemy.
Does it sound cheesy? It’s supposed to be. You see Rise and Shine does not take itself seriously, instead choosing to cram in a multitude of game references by essentially building its entire identity from chunks of other games. There’s a guy who looks suspiciously like Marcus Fenix, there’s an NPC Island where everybody wants you to compete in little mini-games for rewards, an RPG City, a very iconic King and even the dog from Duck Hunt pops up to destroy a bridge with explosives. References are freaking everywhere, from small nods in the background like Guile’s bar to huge ones. Almost the game’s entire humor is built around this self-referential style, and that can be divisive. On the one hand as a gaming geek I do get a kick out of seeing all the various things the developers have crammed into their creation and there are some great jokes that break the fourth wall, but on the other hand it basically boils down to, “hey, look at that! That character you know! Isn’t that cool!? Isn’t it!?” It would be like sitting in the pub with a bunch of friends when suddenly one of them holds up a picture of Solid Snake. One could also argue that by being built out of bits from other games Rise and Shine’s own identity gets lost, although that could be a very deliberate nod to the idea that a lot of game’s feel like amalgamations of others.
The story is a bit problematic, too, in so much as there isn’t much of one to be found, which is a shame given how fun the premise is. It starts off promisingly with Rise being told to take Shine to the King, but then the middle sags. A few characters appear with no real explanation, including a mute girl who expresses herself entirely with a heart emoji, then vanish again before popping up once more for the finale. Who are they? No idea. Why can’t she talk? Dunno. Why is she infatuated with Rise? Eh. Then everything wraps up in an abrupt ending that explains everything while also trying to set up for a sequel that will hopefully happen because I’d like to see more of it.
On the gameplay front Rise and Shine fancies itself as more of a cerebral shooter, emphasizing accuracy and some light puzzle solving over spraying and praying. At the start your gun can only hold a very small amount of bullets per reload, so just pulling the trigger as fast as you can in the general direction of the enemy won’t cut it, especially as you’re only capable of taking one or two hits before dying horribly. As the game goes on you’ll acquire upgrades that let Shine hold more rounds at once, but even then you never have enough to just fire willy-nilly. You won’t be facing down hundreds of enemies at a time but there’s enough of them to ensure that a few wasted bullets is bad news for you. Further emphasis is placed on accuracy and speed by the fact that enemy projectiles can be shot out of the sky, and will usually need to be in order to survive.
Oh yes, Rise and Shine is a somewhat unforgiving game at times and is perhaps a little bit too fond of annoying deaths that come out of nowhere in the form of insta-kills. You may be running alone when suddenly a mine blows you to pieces. There’s no warning, no environmental cues or anything that might make you suspicious of the wonderfully green grass. Sometimes success can feel like it less about skill and more about memorization of which enemies are going to be coming from where. It’s not a wholly unfair, but there were a number of times when death didn’t feel like my fault.
Except here’s the kicker; while Rise and Shine feels like it aspires to be more than just a mindless shooter, that’s kind of what it is. The first problem is that a controller for this game feels useless, which is counter-intuitive for most players since side-scrolling shooters typically favor a pad. The thing is the right analogue stick simply doesn’t feel anywhere near as precise as the game would have you be, and the problem isn’t helped by a laser sight that will appear on enemies you’re aiming at but that is damn near impossible to see in the middle of a fight. Switch over to keyboard and mouse and suddenly you’re given a big aiming reticle, making things much easier. But even then there is a slight problem as Rise often lags just behind your cursor, resulting in a bullet or two being completely off the mark as he catches up.
The next thing is that it ventures a bit too close to a bullet-hell game, which is to say one that hurls a lot of enemies at you, without giving you the tools to handle it. The controls aren’t as tight or responsive as I’d like, aiming brings you to a near-halt but is the only way of firing and while you can dash it doesn’t provide any invincibility. What this means is that frequently your only way of really dealing with things is to just mash the trigger until everything dies or all the projectiles aimed at your face are gone.
This is where the cover system comes into play, an attempt to remove the normal bullet-hell necessity of being agile on your feet as well as accurate and fast. At certain moments you’ll stumble across a conveniently sized wall to crouch behind. Enemies can wreck this cover, but provided you shoot at least some of the projectiles down it’ll be just fine.
The action is mixed up through the acquisition of shiny new upgrades for Shine. It doesn’t take long for you to get remote control bullets, for example, which you’ll frequently need to use in order to guide your ammo to vulnerable spots on bosses or even to activate switches. These act as the basis for many of the very simple puzzles. Then there’s electric ammo that’s useful for disrupting certain enemies, plus explosive grenades that are vital for taking out foes wielding shields. Sadly these accessories never get mixed into the combat as much as you might expect. Most enemies are defeated by just shooting them repeatedly. It would have been nice to see some more variety, and reasons to use the upgrades outside of combat.
Ah, yup, outside of combat. That means we need to chat about those puzzles. They’re used to give the player a welcome respite from all the shooting, and therefore aren’t exactly mentally taxing. You shouldn’t get stuck on any of them, and while part of me would have liked to have see the game go a lot further in this area it makes sense for the developers to keep things simple.
So where exactly do I stand with Rise and Shine? Truthfully, I don’t really know. There were moments early on where I was genuinely in love with Rise and Shine, the shooting lulling me into that wonderful zen-like state that designers often refer to as flow. Shine fires its rounds with a pleasing bang and the fact that Rise can’t move very quickly at all when aiming forces you to be precise with your shots and to quickly figure out what you need to deal with first. Assess, shoot. Assess, shoot. It’s such a more methodical pace than I’m used to seeing in side-scrolling shooters. But between those moments of zen-like peace and bullets Rise and Shine can also be a frustrating game. It seems to have a desire to be like Dark Souls or other hard games but can come across as unfair, and while death in Dark Souls is a chance to learn important new information, here the lesson is never anything more than you weren’t quite quick enough or that a missed shot got you killed. The combat fails to evolve, too, with the early learning curve tailing off half-way through until a final section where the challenge lurches upwards like it had been sneaking a smoke in the backroom, checked its watched and realized it was late for its shift.
This problem is highlighted by the fact that the whole game lasts 2-3 hours. I’ve always championed the idea of quality before quantity, but in this case the game really does feel like it should have either been a bit longer, or much more creative. Still, this short runtime does mean that it gets to do its thing without ever overstaying its welcome.
Rise and Shine comes so damn close to being something truly special, but it falters along the way, never quite making that final leap into brilliance. It has sumptuous visuals and a fun premise, yet its gunplay and puzzling are merely adequate. But it might just be the game for you. Perusing the Steam reviews and even reviews from other critics shows a pretty wide range of opinions. Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle; it’s a beautiful game with solid shooting that is probably worth waiting to pick up on sale. Sadly it isn’t something I can recommend you go and buy right this instant, though, and that hurts to say. Something special is lurking here, it just needs to rise, and shine.