Adult Swim Games' first Xbox One release is Rise & Shine, a run-and-gun shooter in which a boy must save the world of video games from an invasion. With beautiful art and lots of gaming references, it's a very clever, but hard, game. Maybe too hard.
A mean-spirited tribute to the games of yore
Rise & Shine is the brainchild of Super Mega Team, a Spanish indie developer founded by an artist who worked on the original Plants vs. Zombies. Nobody will accuse this game of having less-than-stellar 2D visuals – it's a beautiful looking run-and-gun shooter. But the game's story is another… story.
As related mostly through lovely full-screen comic panels, the world of Gamearth is under attack from neighboring planet Nexgen. Gamearth is a unique place; all the characters from video games in our world live there in harmony. Obvious equivalents of Link, Mario, Princess Toadstool, Zelda, Marcus Fenix, Snake, Ash Ketchum, Bomberman, Billy Hatcher, and more – they all make uncredited appearances here, only to die grotesquely. That's how you write a love letter to something, right? By killing it Jimmy Olson in Batman v. Superman-style?
After Link is bloodily murdered in front of young protagonist Rise's eyes, he gains possession of Shine, a sentient gun that bestows its user (except for Link, which is never explained) with infinite respawns. Rise must now use the gun to thwart Nexgen and save Gamearth from further destruction.
Shooting plus puzzles
Rise & Shine plays a bit like Metal Slug and Contra — our hero must run and platform his way through challenging levels, shooting everything in sight. Rise can aim in any direction by holding the Left Trigger and then pressing the Right Trigger to fire. The aiming works well enough, but pressing the fire button on its own does nothing. Gameplay would be faster and smoother if Right Trigger simply fired forward when used without Left Trigger.
Over the course of the game's fourteen scenes (levels), Rise will gain several unique abilities that differentiate this game from other run-and-guns. First and foremost are remote-controlled bullets, activated by the Left Bumper button. Players directly control RC bullets, steering them around like a spacecraft. But the bullets can only be steered within glowing fields that appear while using the gun, limiting their range.
This mechanic allows for unique puzzles in which Rise must pilot a shot through several connecting fields, dodging enemies and fire that would destroy it, to hit a switch or enemy targets. It's a clever mechanic, although the density of enemy fire often makes the remote-control piloting more stressful than necessary.
Other abilities include electric bullets, which cause greater damage to some enemies (and no damage to a few) and charge up batteries involved in puzzles and boss encounters, and explosive bullets that can be detonated remotely. The explosive shots have a weird arc that makes aiming them harder to use than necessary, but you only need them for a few puzzles and encounters anyway.
The Xbox One version of Rise & Shine has 14 Achievements worth a total of 1,000 Gamerscore. Of these, two involve finding the game's 27 total collectibles. These will likely involve following a guide video, although individual scenes can be replayed at will. This makes going back for missed collectibles and other optional Achievements a snap.
The hardest Achievement involves completing the game on Ironman difficulty. This mode gives players a single life to work with – die and it's Game Over. A No Death run takes only 90 minutes, but being good enough to accomplish that is a whole other story. Thankfully, you can at least quit out right at the moment of death without losing your Ironman save. Still, most players, including me, will probably top out at 13/14 Achievements due to the onerously difficult Ironman one.
Too tough enough
Rise & Shine is such a beautiful game, with gorgeously detailed backgrounds and huge bosses filling the screen. But the story and its twist are mean and stupid. Seeing off-brand versions of popular characters get mutilated or hung might work in an edgelord sort of way, but you'd still need to undo all of those unearned deaths. The story does not undo them or earn them.
More critically, Rise & Shine is stupidly hard. The developers, seemingly with a fondness for 8- and 16-bit games, have employed a dirty trick those old games used. They mask the game's short overall length (90 minutes) with extreme difficulty. It's not uncommon for many players, including me, to spend upwards of 90 minutes simply trying to beat the final boss (pictured above). That's not fun; it's just frustrating.
The game already asks you to do a lot of jumping and dodging while also aiming on the fly using both triggers and sticks. A tall order on its own, but not inherently painful. But unlike any proper run-and-gun, Rise doesn't have unlimited ammo. He only gets a few shots in (18 by the game's end) before having to reload, and the reloading time is painful!
And enemy shots cancel out the player's bullets, so you end up having to mash on the trigger repeatedly (the Elite controller's Trigger Lock feature helps) just to get rid of fire that will kill you, and then while reloading, the enemy just fires more shots again. Rise only has a horizontal dash (which provides no invincibility) to defend himself, and it really isn't enough. Hence, a lot of dying and retrying until you finally get it right.
Rise & Shine reminds me of the original Battletoads from Rare, a game that would've been excellent had it not been so punishing. All of the work that went into creating such beautiful art, packing in so many gaming references, and creating the interesting bullet abilities, is undermined by the excessive challenge. Players who like tough games will love Rise & Shine, but it will never truly shine unless the developers rebalance the difficulty.
- Excellent 2D artwork
- Clever remote-controlled bullets mechanic
- Lots of references to popular video games
- Punishing difficulty in general and frustrating final boss
- Graphic violence creates a needlessly dark tone
- The story and the villain's motivations are unsatisfying.
Xbox One review copy provided by the publisher.
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