Rise & Shine Review

I really wanted to like Rise & Shine. It’s one of the prettiest indie games I’ve played because of its beautiful and vibrant hand-drawn backgrounds, enemies and player characters. It’s also rife with fun, tongue-in-cheek references to the video games of yore. But that love quickly fades after spending hours and hours on a game that feels way harder than it needs to be. The demands and rigors of combat are unnecessarily stacked against the player, taking the form of frequent and cheap deaths. Love turns to fear, fear leads to anger, anger leads to pain, and pain leads to rage quitting and never wanting to play Rise & Shine ever again.

The idea of the game sounds like it’d be a grand old time: as a young boy on the planet Gamearth, Rise is caught in the middle of a war between his peaceful people and the Gears of War-style Grunts who love nothing more than extreme violence and incredible structural damage. While seeking shelter after the Grunts shoot up a mall, Rise encounters a dying Legendary Hero (who looks like Link) that bequeaths him Shine, a wise-cracking gun. Given the mantle of Legendary Hero (and the perk of respawning after dying), Rise must deliver Shine to the king of Gamearth in order to stop the war once and for all. It’s a super silly conceit, for sure, but there’s something endearing about seeing Space Invader aliens, the fireballs from Super Mario Bros., and the bird from Flappy Bird make random appearances. It’s like the game-natured gags from Hyperdimension Neptunia, taken to a larger extreme. I would likely be dismissive of the game gags - like I was with Hyperdimension Neptunia - if it weren’t presented in such rich, visual splendor.

Visuals are where Rise & Shine, well, shine. Each location, enemy, item and obstacle looks as if an animator sat down and drew the entire game by hand and then scanned those images into the software. The time and effort taken to create the assets are immediately noticeable because there’s a great sense of detail that brings Gamearth to life. The artistic vision lends itself to Rise & Shine’s reverence for video games as the game environments are packed with visual gags and references. And because of the hand drawn design, these shout outs feel organic to the environment. It's as if Gamearth really has a superstructure that looks exactly like a Nintendo Game Boy. If this were a 3D rendered game, the developers would find ways to halt the action and point the camera to the Game Boy-styled building as if to say, “Hey, look! We spent three hours rendering a Game Boy, and we’re going to shoehorn an excuse for you to look at it so we don’t feel like we wasted our time!” Most of the visual gags in Rise & Shine are easy to miss but are better appreciated when discovered.

Unfortunately, the game doesn’t give you a real chance to appreciate the artistic direction because the action totally gets in the way. Rise & Shine is a side scrolling dual stick shooter with a cover system. You guide Rise as he runs to the right shooting enemies and dodging obstacles. As you progress, Shine picks up new ammo types and modifiers that can aid in battle and solve puzzles, such as electric bullets and radio controlled bullets. Such mechanics are easy enough to digest, and the controls are comfortable. The problem is, I feel the game unfairly stacks the deck against you.

Rise & Shine demands a precision that is largely untenable on the Xbox One controller. Early on in the game, you’ll pick up a laser sight that makes things easier. But when the action picks up and enemies are shooting bullet-hell style projectiles at you, it’s a little hard to maintain accuracy as you frantically dodge attacks and analyze patterns. Rise, a young boy, is fairly weak and cannot sustain too much damage before he’s killed and forced to respawn. Though it feels like practically every encounter, be it with a lowly robot sentry or a giant laser cannon kills Rise in one hit. It doesn’t help that the enemy design shares the hand-drawn aesthetic of the rest of the game, making them blend into the environment and harder to detect. As a result, the game is pretty much designed around trial and error. My experience can easily be summed up thusly:

  • Run to the right.
  • Get blown up by mine that appears out of the ground with no warning.
  • Respawn.
  • Run to the right.
  • Trigger mines to appear and shoot/evade explosion.
  • Run to the right again.
  • Encounter a giant laser that kills you in one hit.
  • Die.
  • Respawn.
  • Run to the right.
  • Trigger mines to appear and shoot/evade explosion.
  • Run to the right again.
  • Encounter a giant laser that kills you in one hit
  • Try to suss out a pattern.
  • Die.
  • Respawn.
  • Run to the right.
  • Trigger mines to appear and shoot/evade explosion.
  • Run to the right again.
  • Encounter a giant laser that kills you in one hit
  • Try to suss out a pattern.
  • Die.
  • Try to suss out its pattern again.
  • Die.
  • Respawn.
  • Run to the right.
  • Trigger mines to appear and shoot/evade explosion.
  • Run to the right again.
  • Encounter a giant laser that kills you in one hit
  • Try to suss out a pattern.
  • Die.
  • Try to suss out its pattern again.
  • Die.
  • Figure out the pattern and start shooting.
  • Enemy changes its pattern on the fly, speeding up his attack.
  • Die.
  • Respawn.
  • Run to the right.
  • Trigger mines to appear and shoot/evade explosion.
  • Run to the right again.
  • Encounter a giant laser that kills you in one hit
  • Try to suss out a pattern.
  • Die.
  • Try to suss out its pattern again.
  • Die.
  • Figure out pattern and start shooting.
  • Enemy changes its pattern on the fly, speeding up his attack.
  • Die.
  • Fight enemy again, aware of its ability and defeat it.
  • Run to the right, get killed by an errant bomb/zombie/robot drone and die.
  • Respawn.

The frequent chances for death imbue the game with a difficulty that feels insurmountable. On top of that, I feel the gun doesn’t fire fast enough nor are you given a decent number of bullets to spend until Shine has to reload, leaving you open to getting killed by a stray enemy attack. Trying to get through a level is a daunting experience, and I found myself rage quitting more and more. In the end, I made the decision to stop playing because my time is more valuable than slamming my head against a brick wall of a game. Your mileage may vary, of course, though be aware that Rise & Shine hides an unforgiving game underneath its gorgeous exterior.

Teen Services Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.