Rise & Shine takes place on the very meta land of GameEarth, where everything is based on video game tropes in one way or another. This tongue-in-cheek adventure features a young boy, Rise, who suddenly finds himself in control of the fate of GameEarth after receiving the mythical pistol Shine. With it he is imbued with the power of the “Guides” and infinite respawns (that is literally what the game says) to aid him in defeating the evil, invading forces of NexGen.
In case you couldn’t tell from my description, Rise & Shine is pretty glorious in its inclusion of video game references. However, unlike many games, it approaches with subtlety much of the time while the most obvious stuff is handled in a very matter of fact fashion. There’s a character called Mark Cole who is clearly an homage to Marcus Fenix but the game doesn’t hit you over the head with it, it’s just another piece of this unique video game world. In fact everything is kind of handled that way, with the characters just taking things in stride, like when your mom comes to terms with you having to save the world because apparently giant, GameEarth threatening wars happen every couple years anyways.
As anyone can see, Rise & Shine is an absolutely beautiful game and looks even better in motion. The hand-drawn world features a lot of great environments and the way light is handled is great, especially when you end up underground. While it looks fun and cute, do not be fooled. This game is brutal in the way enemies, and Rise himself, are killed. Expect lots of blood, acid melting away skin and Rise’s head bouncing around the environment after nearly every death. This especially becomes apparent midway through the game when you visit a mushroom-themed castle filled with soldiers with toadstools on their heads covered in blood.
As the title hits very on the nose, Rise & Shine is plainly about those two characters, Rise and Shine. Rise is your standard young protagonist, who doesn’t really understand what is going on and finds this destiny of saving the world thrust upon him. The other, and more interesting character, is Shine, the wise-cracking, anthropomorphic pistol who joins you on your journey. The pistol is a thing of legend, which passes onto Rise after the death of its previous owner (wondering about the whole infinite respawn thing? Yeah the game pretty much tells you to just not worry about it).
The duo of Rise and Shine come together in a 2D action game that has mixtures of cover-based shooting, bullet hell sequences, puzzle solving and platforming. With the built-in world element of “infinite respawns” you should expect to die and die a lot. Enemy attacks are brutal, with many that are instant kills. As such, Rise & Shine becomes about dodging and taking cover as much as it is about being offensive. Rise can run and double jump but aiming Shine with LT and the right stick makes you move considerable slower, meaning you can’t just run around blasting everything in sight. You need to take a more controlled approach towards killing everything, which works really well.
What is even more impressive about Rise & Shine is the puzzle elements of the game. Shine gets upgrades throughout the campaign that are used brilliantly for both solving environmental puzzles and taking down bosses in smart ways. One lets you remote-control your bullets, often tasking you with weaving a bullet through various obstacles to hit a switch or blow something up that is blocking your progress. Later you get grenades that you can lob in an arc or stick to a surface before exploding. You also get normal or electric versions of bullets that can be mixed with any weapon mode, allowing for some truly interesting puzzles.
I truly enjoyed my entire playthrough of Rise & Shine. Some of the bosses get frustrating, for sure, but never in a way that feels unfair or unbeatable. The only real negative I have for the game is its overall length. The game can be completed in around three hours, which feels very brief. After you complete the game there isn’t much to go back for. There are collectibles to unlock, if that’s your thing, and an Iron Man mode that resets the game when you die, which seems like a ridiculous undertaking. The more saddening part of Rise & Shine’s brevity is that it ends right when it is hitting its stride. The ways it begins combining Shine’s upgrades become really cool and the game ends with some truly interesting uses of the actual video game world Rise lives in. But then it ends before it really gets to explore any of these ideas.
Seeing the prospect of what could have been does not, however, take away from the overall experience of the game, which I found sublime. The combat is deadly yet fun and the puzzle elements are smart and well designed. The world is beautiful and the video game references found within are fun, with a good amount of subtlety with how they are sprinkled in throughout. Rise & Shine is an enjoyable experience that ultimately ends up being an hour or two too short of something truly exceptional.
SCORE: 8.0 out of 10
A copy of Rise & Shine was provided to Pixel Related for review.