Game: “Arise: A Simple Story”
Arise initially appears to be a cute indie platformer from Barcelona based developer Piccolo. Originally released in 2019, it has recently made its debut on the Switch, where a few longer-than-expected load times aside it makes a solid fit. With some interesting time-based mechanics, you guide an old man through an edited highlight reel of his life, in the form of jumping puzzles, although prepare for some not insignificant tonal whiplash as you go.
At A Glance
|Positives||+ Fun time manipulation puzzles|
+ Cute visual design
+ Solid soundtrack
|Negatives||– Tone-deaf story choices|
– Not much challenge
– Some awkward camera/control issues
|Price (When Reviewed)||£17.99|
|Our Playtime||4 hours|
|Available On||PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC|
Visually, Arise is very much an indie platformer. Bold, simple design is the order of the day, with faceless-mannequin character design quite reminiscent of 2018 soulslike Ashen. The ten levels are each visually distinct and nicely put together overall, and although I feel some better guidance on where you are supposed to be heading would help, they are never so cluttered that detail gets lost in the noise. Audio design is also very good, with the grunts and wheezes of the old man quite characterful and a quality soundtrack throughout.
The USP of the game is the time mechanics. While you control the old man with the left analogue stick, while the right stick, traditionally reserved for camera control, instead moves time forwards and backwards. The first level demonstrates this well – it’s an archipelago you must traverse by melting the snow to raise the water level, sliding the season from winter to spring. It’s intuitive and fun to do, and each subsequent level introduces new mechanics or complications to the mix. A few of these land better than others, although I don’t feel any were serious misfires, and the danger of overcomplicating a simple design is fortunately avoided.
The downside to using the right analogue stick to manipulate time is that you can’t also then use it to control the camera. A 2D platformer wouldn’t have this issue (the closest comparison would be 2008’s Braid, although Arise is neither half as complex nor half as pretentious), and there were certainly points where the old man would happily jump to his death due to poorly transmitted depth perception issues that a controllable camera would avoid. Thankfully there is no real penalty for death; respawns are quick and usually just a few steps behind where you were.
There is also a limited co-op feature, where one player controls the old man and the other the time feature. It’s a little lopsided – think Mario and Cappy in Super Mario Odyssey – and if you think the player controlling time might have considerably less to do than the old man you would be correct. Still, much like Odyssey, it’s an interesting feature for a game you might play with a child, though there’s a fine line between them getting bored due to them either not understanding how the puzzles work or wanting more to do.
I’d also hesitate to recommend you play this game with a child due to the tone of the story. Fair warning, I’m going to get a little more spoilery than I usually would here – feel free to skip to the last paragraph if you’d rather avoid them, though I will still point out that this game should have a significant trigger warning for miscarriage – not just that it appears in the game, but also how it is handled (badly).
The storytelling in Arise is very much indie-game-by-numbers. There are no character names or dialogue, just big primary-colour emotions going on. For this kind of thing, that’s usually fine -and by and large works here too- where the story works. Unfortunately, that’s where things run into some issues.
Each level is a part of the life story of the old man and the relationship he builds with his wife. The first level is meeting as children, then exploring the world as slightly older children, getting separated, re-uniting, etc, etc. Things take a hard left turn though when it goes into the pregnancy chapter (titled “Fruit”), where you bounce around a big, soft pink room as a flower grows in the middle of it. It’s…. weird. Part organic, but with the edges sanded off to negate the body-horror that jumping around an actual womb would entail, it ends up feeling very saccharine, almost to the point of being literal confectionary in some of the platform designs.
Then, when you reach the flower, it dies. It’s a powerful moment, and one that works well – certainly one I would not spoil if it wasn’t for the subsequent chapters’ spectacularly ill-judged direction. First up is “Ash”, in which you navigate a barren, inhospitable wasteland, overrun with thick thorny vines. It is, in short, not subtle. After this is “Solace”, where the old man’s wife has seemingly fallen into a deep depression, and he must fix her. Like you do, with depression, right?
After this things improve – though it is hard to see how they could not really. Still, the message from the next chapter up to the end of the game, where the couple live out the rest of their days in a flintstones-style house in the woods, get old and die, is one I found resoundingly bleak. The last chapter of the game is called “Hope”, but I am genuinely not sure why. I do not know what these people lived for; exiles from their tribes, in the (presumably) decades after the miscarriage. The game implies, through absence of anything else, that it was lonely, sad and meaningless.
Overall, then, Arise remains an interesting platform experience. The gameplay is fun, the time manipulation is a well used and well developed mechanic, the visuals and sound are solid, yet the narrative goes to some strange, tone-deaf places and the overall message is, at best, mixed. Joyful at the beginning, borderline offensive in places in the middle and thoroughly bleak by the ending. At just shy of £20 it’s also a little highly priced for the four hours of purgatory the old man must get through to find his final rest, though even on sale it remains one I’d be cautious to recommend given the handling of the subject matter the story chooses to explore.
In the interest of full disclosure, VGamingNews was provided with a copy of the game in order to conduct this review.