Maybe Too Simple?
HIGH Soaring around the fountain in “Romance”.
LOW Being repeatedly led to my death by the little light in “Hope”.
WTF What is with the giant snails and flowers?
As one might surmise from the title, Arise: A Simple Story isn’t trying to do anything particularly interesting or unique.
In its first moments, a burly, beardy fellow is cremated and almost immediately awakens on a snowy mountain lit by a star. From this alone it’s easy to guess that what follows will be some form of reminiscence or purgatory accompanied by twinkly and sentimental music, and that’s essentially accurate. This is well-worn ground that legions of indie games have trod, and Arise just barely rises above similar works.
The principal gameplay hook in Arise is the ability to scrub forward and backward in time. Tilting the right stick to one side or the other moves time rapidly, and pulling one of the triggers freezes it. Depending on what level one is playing, this means moving from one part of day to another, moving from the beginning of an earthquake to the end, or even between seasons.
All of this allows Arise’s burly protagonist to traverse its levels. Advancing a season might cause a lake’s level to rise, floating a log into position so the man can jump a gap. In one beautiful visual, giant flowers in a field turn their faces to follow the sun, becoming giant tilting platforms under the player’s control. By freezing time, the man can also do things like crossing a falling log while it’s in midair.
Given that this important function is mapped to the right stick, one might guess that the camera is not under player control. Rather, it moves into preset positions as the player progresses. This ends up being frustrating throughout the adventure because of the effect it has on platforming.
Jumping gaps in Arise has an exceptionally bad feel, and even when the camera is properly oriented, it’s unusually easy to miss a landing or overrun an edge. The fixed perspective frequently compounded this problem by obscuring the view, leading to large numbers of missed jumps, often under conditions that made it unclear whether that jump could even be made.
The one salve of a fixed camera in a title like this is that it should be easy to arrange the levels in such a way that the player’s eye is drawn towards the next step in traversal, but that doesn’t happen in Arise. On several occasions – and this is a short game – the camera pointed away from the path I needed to take next. On others, it was pointed the right way, but muddy colors and poorly-composed shots hid the path forward from view.
The muddy colors arise because many of the levels are dark and grim. The protagonist is apparently a prehistoric man of some kind, and predictable tragedies and fears afflict him and his wife, who is the motivation for the journey.
While many of the levels are plausible environments (northern pine forest is the setting for about half of the adventure) I enjoyed Arise most when it was being whimsical and figurative. Its garden with giant flowers, mushrooms, and snails was lovely, as was the “Fruit” level reflecting the time when the man and his wife were expecting.
The most effective level was “Solace”, which included an excellent metaphor for rebuilding after a tragedy by making the man literally pull a world together. I also loved the many spots where magic winds lifted the man off the ground and carried him through the environment (in “Solace” they keep carrying him away from his wife).
The time-scrubbing mechanic in Arise is interesting and the many of the levels have a compelling concept. It also offers several visually striking moments and in certain places, it delivers on its emotional content. Unfortunately, it also has too many muddy, unclear visuals for a work of its brevity, and the core platforming disappoints. I wish I could give it a full-throated endorsement, but in the end this is a well-worn theme and Arise: A Simple Story falters in too many places to be truly notable.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Piccolo and published by Techland. It is currently available on PC, PS4, and XBox One. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 6 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. One hour of play was spent in two-player mode, in which the second player controls time and the first player controls the protagonist.
Parents: This game has been rated E by the ESRB. There are no descriptors.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There is no speech or significant in-game text of any kind and there are no sound cues. The audio of this game shouldn’t pose any additional challenge, so I evaluate it as fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.
Currently Sparky works as a scientist in Rhode Island, and works gaming in between experiments and literature reviews. As a writer, he hopes to develop a critical voice that contributes to a more sophisticated and interesting culture of discourse about games. He is still waiting for a console port of Betrayal at Krondor.