STAFF REVIEW of Aspire - Ina's Tale (Xbox One)

Saturday, January 8, 2022.
by Peggy Doyle

Aspire - Ina's Tale Box art A girl awakens in a strange and eerie tower. She doesn’t know how she got there and how to get out, so she sets out on her journey to discover who she is and how she got there. Developed by Wondernaut Studio, Aspire: Ina’s Tale is an engaging and delightful 2D platformer that takes place entirely in a strange tower that feeds on people’s dreams. You play as Ina, also referred to as ‘The Heart’, as she embarks on a journey to discover who she is and uncover the secrets of the tower. This is a primarily solo endeavor, but occasionally you will come across other prisoners who will help you learn more about the mysterious tower. Knowing that Ina is referred to as ‘The Heart’ is your first clue that there is more to our young protagonist than at first glance, this is confirmed fairly quickly when you find out that she can harness the power of light energy.

The mysteries of the tower are literally written all over the walls, and runes are everywhere. I love puzzles and was excited to think about how to solve them, but realized quickly that the game auto deciphered them for you. Slightly disappointing. As you move through the tower you encounter other prisoners, and as you help them escape or with a problem they have, you will unlock their memories. The memories are the primary source as to how the story unfolds in Aspire: Ina’s Tale.

Gameplay is typical of a 2D platformer. Ina will swing across chains, leap crevasses, move heavy blocks, jump onto platforms and ledges, activate levers and slide down slopes. Since she can also harness light and manipulate this energy, she can change and alter the structure of certain elements to use them to her advantage. She uses this power to help her solve the puzzles to move through the areas of the tower. She can make blocks larger/smaller, cause them to move up/down, and also use a lantern to bring light energy with her. It will also help repel and evil creatures she finds.

While there are a few baddies scattered throughout the game, gravity and puzzles are your real foes. None of the puzzles were that difficult, in fact, the only issue of being stuck on a puzzle I had was when one section wouldn’t recognize something I did. I spent about 30 minutes trying to discover what I was doing wrong before giving up. I reloaded the game after a few hours and the switch was able to be moved. Obviously a bug, and a frustrating time waster at that. While I appreciate that the game didn’t have a HUD, some sort of indicator for points like this would have made it more obvious that there was a bug, and not simply that I couldn’t figure out the puzzle. Thankfully the save points are generous and there wasn’t a lot of backtracking and not much progress was lost. Another issue for me was when you were switching between her ‘abilities’, as it wasn’t always obvious which was currently her active one. Many times, I made a block or platform do the opposite of what I wanted and had to start again.

A vague but epic quest, vast beautiful environments, and ancient machinery finally coming back to life after being dormant, it’s easy to be reminded of other epic games in this genre, like Journey or Limbo. Like these games, you’ll visit a variety of distinct levels, from dark ruins full of technology and bright sun filled temples. The art style is beautiful - shadows, light and reflections dance along as you move through the tower. The graphics, although not complex in design, had colours that were bright and dynamic. There is a section with beautiful pink blossomed trees that was just stunning. Instances when the camera would pull back and you were treated to a grand sweeping look at your surroundings were some of my favourite scenes in Ina's adventure. I feel as though Wondernaut favoured the beautiful art style over their game design, however. There were times I found myself frustrated with some janky controls, or some odd animation, and some of the components of the puzzles simple disappeared into the background. Trying to find a lever that was camouflaged in the similarly textured and coloured wall was not an isolated incident either.

As beautiful as the game was, the sound design was even more stunning. There is no voice acting, all dialogue is delivered through text boxes on the screen, but no voice acting was needed in my opinion. Sounds effects are convincing and realistic. Clanking of metal, whirring of gears, shattering of glass, the ticking of a clock were all wonderful. Above and beyond though, the musical score was the true heart of the game. A beautiful blend of haunting, atmospheric and emotive, it truly captures the feelings of each scene as you moved though the tower. The sound effects echo through the environments, reminding you of the enormous size of the tower in which you are captive. The tempo rising and falling along with my heart rate, creating a sense of urgency but also moments of calm.

Even with Aspire: Ina’s Tale being a simple and beautiful 2D game, don’t expect the story to be a happy one. It had an overwhelmingly melancholy tone. The ending may not have been the biggest surprise to me, but the journey was well worth it. With no collectibles and a short run time of about 5 hours, there is no need to revisit once completed. This may seem like a bad thing, but it isn’t. The game provides a focused gaming experience that achieves what it sets out to do. Aspire - Ina's Tale told a story, captured the imagination, and left me a variety of mixed emotions. It also seemed to know how to wrap things up before it outstayed its welcome and started to run too long, something a lot of games don’t seem to understand. If you’re a fan of 2D platformers, I recommend checking this one out.

Overall: 7.3 / 10
Gameplay: 6.5 / 10
Visuals: 7.5 / 10
Sound: 8.5 / 10


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