STAFF REVIEW of Rise & Shine (Xbox One)

Thursday, January 12, 2017.
by Chad Goodmurphy

Rise & Shine Box art On the distant planet of GameEarth, a war is brewing between its peaceful inhabitants and the heinous, warmonging space grunts who wish to do them harm. In the middle of this battle is a gun, nicknamed Shine, which falls into the hands of a ten year-old boy named Rise, who immediately becomes its carrier, protector and ally.

Such is the premise of Rise & Shine, the aptly titled debut project from the talented folks who make up Super Awesome Hyper Dimensional Mega Team. They’re new to the fold under this name, but they happen to have lots of experience gleamed from working on games like Worms and Plants vs. Zombies. Combining a classic “one against many” tale with challenging gameplay and lots of homages to classic video games, Rise & Shine is an interesting experience that won’t soon be forgotten by those who play it. At its heart, though, it’s best described as a side-scrolling action game and bullet hell hybrid, one that doesn’t hold any punches and loves to throw everything it can at the player, resulting in a few frustrating chokepoints.

Things begin in a partially destroyed shopping mall, wherein a young boy (our new friend Rise, of course) is staring down death at the hands of an evil-looking grunt. Before his short life can flash across his young eyes, our unsuspecting hero is saved from the brink of death, thanks to the land’s beloved hero. In the process, the protector ends up giving up his own life for the young stranger’s, and drops his beloved gun as he collapses to the ground.

Unaware of just how significant of a moment that this was, Rise shambles forward and comforts the dying hero, before picking up the gun that he dropped. Almost immediately the lead shooter begins to talk, shocking the young boy before telling him that he’s not only its new protector, but that he has also been tasked with taking over the hero’s quest; that being to take Shine to the king’s castle. Shine, you see, is a magical weapon. Not only can he talk, but he’s also able to grant his chosen carrier with unlimited respawns, which bodes well for you given how challenging (and occasionally cheap) Rise & Shine happens to be.

Now, I’m sure you’re wondering how this all works out. That is, if the gun is able to gift its carrier with unlimited lives, how did the almighty hero manage to die for good? This is brought up in game during a humorous moment where the question is raised and the given answer is to simply forget about it and not read too much into things. What unfolds from that harrowing, near death experience is a short but memorable campaign that will challenge and frustrate those who give it a chance.

It must be said though that Rise & Shine is unlike most other side-scrolling action games in existence. In fact, it’s somewhat unique in terms of its gameplay mechanics, which task the player with moving, dashing or jumping away from incoming fire, or shooting at it to make it disappear. Cover is sometimes available, but even it is a risky proposition, because large amounts of enemy bullets can destroy your blockade and leave you vulnerable at the worst possible moment.

The key to success here is to develop quick reflexes and make good use of every bullet you fire. Whether it’s a standard bullet, explosive round or an electric one, every expended shell must be used intelligently. So, if you use your ammo to harm an enemy, destroy incoming energy bullets, or blow something to smithereens, you must strategize your attack to make it worthwhile, because getting caught during a reload is a surefire game over.

Those aren’t the only types of shots available to you, though, as Rise & Shine also features a player-controlled shot. Slow but helpful, these bullets can be moved and aimed through bubbles that appear in the sky around enemies and by radio antennas that emit their required waves. Any time a bullet leaves a bubble, it flattens out and crashes to the ground without any sort of provenance, making it important to stay within their means.

Certain puzzles, as well as most mini-bosses and traditional bosses, require you to adeptly move a bullet through obstacles in order to hit a desired switch, electrical outlet or something of that ilk. It’s not always easy, and it can take a few tries, but it’s a strong mechanic that adds some challenge to the game, while also forcing players to use their minds.

This interesting combination of genres works well for the majority of Rise & Shine’s three to four hour length (which is artificially padded by its difficulty and resulting retries), but it comes unhinged sometimes. This generally always happens whenever the game becomes too much of a bullet hell for its own good; particularly during its last level where the shit really hits the fan.

Positioned as the second to last of about fifteen different chapters, the game’s true final level can be a real bitch, putting it lightly. Although earlier sections were difficult and required some retries, it was this stage that took the majority of my lives and ate up a lot of my playtime. I wondered if I would ever beat the final boss, but eventually did after quite a few tries.

Like most of the game’s stages, this chapter begins with a cover-based battle against a horde of enemies. However, as one would expect, this particular battle is much more difficult than most of those that came before it. The enemies don’t stop coming for quite some time, bullets litter the air and there’s even a rolling death dealer to avoid. So, if you’re not smart, you’ll quickly find yourself staring at a retry screen.

To get past this segment, you’ll need to be smart and methodical with your shots and usage of limited explosive barrels. It’s generally fair, and mostly challenging as opposed to cheap for most of its runtime. However, the developers went a bit too far by throwing tiny flying enemies into the mix, especially since they’re able to fly over top of you and shoot you when you’re behind cover. As if dealing with tons of other enemies – some of whom can kill Rise with one hit if allowed to get close – wasn’t enough. At the very least, those enemies were fair, whereas these little bastards I’m referring to are cheaper than anything.

The little asshats also factor into the final boss, which appears shortly after the conclusion of that aforementioned battle, and takes the form of a hulking robot. As you move from left to right, and vice versa, avoiding incoming bullets, rockets, rolling bombs and robot hand slams, you must also deal with the fliers from hell from time to time. They generally appear during the bosses second and third health bars, and come into play once you’ve dwindled his livelihood down halfway or more.

If it wasn’t for those particular enemies, I don’t think Rise & Shine would have frustrated me as much as it did as I approached its credits. On top of that, the game would have been far less cheap if they hadn’t of been used in such a way. They’re small, and thankfully only shoot small bullets that don’t harm you as much as regular ones, but they’re distracting and their bullets can get in the way of you trying to destroy larger ones. The worst part though, is that they’re very difficult to shoot due to their size, requiring far too much precision for such battles. It’s hard enough to avoid everything else coming at you, without having to worry about them.

Part of this problem is the fault of Rise & Shine’s aiming mechanic, which favours precision over anything else. To fire a shot, one must hold the left trigger to bring Shine out of hiding, and then use the right joystick to aim his laser sight before pressing the right trigger to fire. It’s a system that takes some time to get used to, and one that isn’t exactly ideal for a game that becomes this insane. Thus, it creates some frustration in and of itself and leaves the player at somewhat of a disadvantage.

Though its gameplay is sometimes too cheap and convoluted for its own good, Rise & Shine continually excels when it comes to its presentation. In fact, it was the game’s visuals that first caught my attention, thanks to their colourful, comic-inspired design. Simply put, the entire campaign is a treat for the eyes, with varied locations, continually switching colour palettes and performance that rarely falters.

What’s also great is that Rise & Shine’s audio is right up there with its visuals, offering an original soundtrack that is worth listening to by itself. The music ramps up as the on-screen tension does, and it’s always fitting. There is no spoken dialogue, though, as the developers chose to go with colourful, fullscreen comic panels instead. It suits the game, and is in line with its overall style, so no complaints here.

There’s little more that I can say about Rise & Shine now, having put all of my thoughts down onto paper (well, so to speak). For the most part, it’s a special little game that will challenge and impress players with its charming presentation and unforgiving gameplay. It is, however, not a perfect game, although that’s easier to overlook given that this is a studio’s debut effort, and a very good one at that.

Overall: 8.3 / 10
Gameplay: 7.5 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 8.5 / 10


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