In case you haven’t witnessed any media in the last decade or so, nostalgia rules the roost and there’s a healthy market in appealing to those who pine for yesterday’s memories. This retro run’n’gun effort from the irreverent halls of Adult Swim wants us to revel in its comedic skewering of well-known video game tropes, but it’s hard to appreciate the references when the game itself is so relentlessly difficult.
The world of Gamearth is under attack from musclebound soldiers from the rival realm of Nexgen, and there exists a fabled One True Hero who, it is prophesied, will Save The Day. So far, so parody. The protagonist, a boy named Rise, is gifted with a sentient magnum-like hand cannon called Shine, and the pair are propelled on their hero’s journey to save Gamearth and all its knock-off, non-copyright infringing denizens. In his way lies a veritable smorgasbord of video game baddies of yesteryear, from jacked-up space marines to hovering robots. While the main action involves twin-stick shooting in the vein of Contra or Metal Slug, this is occasionally broken up with mini-sieges against tough enemies behind obligatory chest-high walls. You can use the walls too, but they fragment and break after sustaining a certain amount of fire, so every battle is a race against time.
The aiming is the key letdown here and while you may get slightly more accuracy using a mouse instead of the analogue stick on an Xbox or PS4 controller, this is cold comfort when you’re restarting for the fourteenth time because you failed to adequately juggle aiming and dodging. The aim seems to move in small but discrete units instead of being truly analogue, which might seem like a small detail but when it causes as many missed shots as it does in a game primarily about shooting, it’s a major issue. Reloading adds to the pain, as Shine is a revolver and only holds around a dozen in the chamber; it would have been nice to have a power-up where he could have morphed into a larger machine gun once in awhile. Token upgrades like a flashlight and laser sight are available, but don’t aid much in the task at hand.
There are enough checkpoints to somewhat quell the frustration, but it never dissipates completely; the final level and boss in particular strays dangerously close to bullet-hell territory without giving you the tools to stand a fighting chance. A greater choice of weaponry would have helped, especially some wide area blasters or rapid-fire spreaders, but aside from the remote control shot that is only ever of use for the puzzle sections, the only other choice is an electrical shot that shorts out robot enemies, and grenades. Switching between these in the heat of battle feels clumsy and will be responsible for your untimely demise more than once. Speaking of untimely demise, the game also throws obstacles like proximity mines at you which one would need clairvoyance to anticipate on the first run. One incident involving a gravestone seemed impossible to predict; while the solution can be discovered after multiple fails and retries, it always feels like a cheap way to pad the runtime.
Most of the larfs are delivered by Shine, who gives you pointers, warnings and observations as you move forward. Granted a large proportion of these can get pretty cheesy at times, but this can be forgiven when you know those poking the fun are fans of the genre themselves. Although lacking any associated voice acting aside from the occasional shout, the artwork in the cutscenes and the game world itself is commendably colourful. Rise & Shine is Super Awesome Hyper Dimensional Mega Team’s debut game, however they are comprised of old hands who have worked on the likes of Plants vs Zombies and Worms, and it shows in the bold colours of the characters and backgrounds. The commitment to the retro aesthetic is strong and packed with nice touches, like the original protagonist Rise meets looking not dissimilar to Hyrule’s favourite hero, or the levels becoming more pixelated and older in style as you progress. The soundtrack is equally competent and reverential, hopping between styles to ape the particular retro style of area Rise finds himself in.
One could wonder whether the difficulty has been cranked up to compensate for the lack of content, but even with a shorter completion time this could have been a lot more fun if it wasn’t so punishing. Some might be able to push through the cycle of dying and restarting to enjoy the sounds and sights and might even try the unbridled masochism of the Iron Man mode (one life and then it’s game over), but the rest of us will probably have rage-quit long before the final act.
I loved the aesthetic attention to detail and spotting all the gaming references old and new (hello Flappy Bird!), but unless the gameplay is fun enough to complement them, it feels like a missed opportunity. A host of ideas have been thrown into the mix, but the game doesn’t excel at any of them. There’s clear potential in this studio, but this first effort winds up feeling a little slapdash. Rise & Shine had the potential to be a solid, enjoyably knowing nod to gaming culture at large in the vein of Wreck-It Ralph, but when it comes down to it, both the gags and the gameplay have been done better elsewhere. Sadly, it’s rare that a parody is as good as its subject, and this is no exception.