Let me get something off my chest. I love Adult Swim Games. They have been publishing some fantastic work in the indie scene, and I have loved all of it so far. I still boot up Super House of Dead Ninjas on a semi-regular basis for a few quick runs. Some games have been better than others, but there are none that I personally would describe as “bad games”. With that out of the way, let’s move on to the actual Rise and Shine review.
Adult Swim Games has been providing us with quirky, unique experiences since the release of 2010’s Robot Unicorn Attack. In February of 2013, they published their first “premium” game on the PC, Super House of Dead Ninjas. It was a remake of a popular Adult Swim flash game, and was quickly followed by several other games on Steam. In late 2015 and 2016, we saw Adult Swim start to make a push for “bigger” games that are more complex than their previously very arcadey experiences. The first of these games, Headlander, arrived in July of 2016 to generally favorable reviews. The second of these to hit their respective platforms is Rise and Shine, available now on XBOX One and PC.
Rise and Shine is a side-scrolling action platformer with some bullet-oriented puzzle solving. The game centers around a conflict in the world of Gamearth, in which the robots from planet NexGen are destroying… things because they are… upset about something. What story exists in the game is lighthearted (though grim at times) and serves mostly as a vehicle for referential humor. If this sounds more than a little like Hyperdimension Neptunia to you, you’re not terribly far off. This action platformer is meant to pay homage to gaming and its history, but falls completely short of that aspiration right off the bat.
My biggest problem with Rise and Shine is that the “referential humor” is just that, references. This kind of writing is very difficult to pull off effectively, and Rise and Shine fails at it. None of it is used in a meaningful or clever way. Most of the references are simply something familiar slapped on the screen to make you say “oh hey, that thing” and move on. There is no meaningful commentary here, no witty conversation to be had about video games or their characters. It’s just recognizable figures and objects existing solely to fill screen space and cash in on our nostalgia. At best, the writing and “easter eggs” are passing moments on the screen that inspire little more than an eye roll. At worst, they are offensively simplistic representations of memorable moments and characters from games much greater than this one.
The gameplay unfortunately falls short of what could have been something great. Rise and Shine blends cover based shooting with side-scrolling platforming, and puzzles that are meant to be solved using different bullet types. The platforming and shooting are the first mechanics introduced, and feel unwieldy from the start. Rise’s jumps have a strange weight to them that doesn’t feel right. Platforming never quite felt like a chore, but it should feel a lot better than it does. It’s a design choice I really don’t understand, alongside the downright painful shooting mechanics. Conceptually, the shooting mechanics are great. You have multiple combinations of bullet types to toggle between that modify the behavior of the bullet, as well as the damage type. The act of shooting these bullets is where it all falls apart. Shooting requires the player to hold LT, aim with the right stick, and fire with RT. Bullet type toggles are bound to LB and RB for behavior and damage type, respectively. In a first or third person shooter, this would be completely acceptable. Expected, even. But in a 2D game it feels terrible. It’s especially painful when you’re put into a situation where you are expected to move around and shoot. Having to hold down two buttons while aiming with the right stick and jumping with the face buttons isn’t comfortable or fun in the slightest. In some ways, it forces you to wait for openings in an enemy’s attack patterns to fire a few shots. But most of the time it’s frustrating to the point of feeling like the game is actively working against you.
The puzzles in the game rarely feel like anything more than busy work. They are not particularly challenging, and the solutions are immediately apparent. At no point did I feel accomplished by “solving” a puzzle. And on more than one occasion, I opened a door to progress forward without even realizing I was solving a puzzle. What is here feels like it was put in place to pad out the length of what is a relatively short experience.
Rise and Shine is a game that some may enjoy, but I found myself sorely disappointed by it. If you like referential humor in games and aren’t particularly picky about the delivery, there may be something here for you. Or if you can get by on nice art and a solid soundtrack, Rise and Shine has you covered. Just be prepared for some frustrations along the way if you plan on playing with a controller. This is a completely functional, polished game. But no matter how much you polish and shine the head of a hammer, in the end you’re still going to hit your fingers with it.
- Excellent art and soundtrack
- Unwieldy gameplay, clunky controls
- Referential humor misses consistently
- Underwhelming puzzles