Played on Xbox Series X
It all starts at the end, and the end is the beginning. Where we go from there is a fundamental question that yet remains unanswered. Let’s see what happens next in the XboxEra review of Arise – A Simple Story.
From Piccolo Studio in Barcelona, Arise: A Simple Story was originally released in December 2019. The game begins where you would least expect it, at the funeral of the main character. We never learn his name, but his appearance is not unlike a Nordic warrior. His pyre is set on fire by other bearded men wearing animal skins and furs, and we watch as his body is consumed by the flames, until we are transported to another place where he finds himself both unscorched and in a landscape of deep snow.
It soon becomes clear that we are journeying through his past, looking back on his experiences with the love of his life (whom he met during childhood), and picking up forgotten memories along the way.
Over the course of ten levels, I navigated my way through the Norseman’s life, solving challenges while bearing witness to his everyday struggles, until I found myself back where we began after having learned his backstory. The narrative certainly lives up to its subtitle in this regard, but in other ways, the game is rather complex.
Presented as a third-person puzzle-platformer, Arise is devoid of any dialogue throughout the entire game. As we are presented with the personal highs and lows of the Norseman’s life, all emotion is conveyed by the characters’ body language and is given extra gravitas and emotional atmosphere by a wonderfully composed musical soundtrack.
This game looks stunning from the opening scenes to the finale. Playing through it on my Series X and new OLED TV, I was able to enjoy the experience with the added benefit of HDR, and I can honestly say that I was blown away by the brightly coloured design aesthetic.
Working your way through a variety of levels, each unique in both its design and appearance, allows the player to pick up different traversal skills such as climbing, latching onto and swinging from objects, and manipulating the environment. These skills, and many others, are cleverly built up over the course of the game so that in later levels, players are required to combine these skills in various ways in order to progress.
The main mechanic that the game is built upon is time manipulation. I am a big fan of this mechanic, personally, after having enjoyed its use in the campaign of Titanfall 2, and a chapter of the awesome co-op adventure, It Takes Two. In this game, the extent of time manipulation available to the player varies by level. For example, you may have a few seconds where you can manipulate the flight of a giant Bee in order to ride it, or the ability to change meteorological seasons, where a blanket of snow can either help you reach certain areas and block you from accessing others. This mechanic is applied cleverly and is far from simplistic. In one level, I was required to move the sun through the sky in order to change the tilt angle of giant Sunflowers in order to make my way across a vast field of them. Another level had me manipulating the flow of Water Lilies along a river to create a safe path. Things became more complex as the story progressed, and I had to use time manipulation to make my way through an area before and after a giant wildfire had destroyed everything in its path, without getting caught in the flames.
Once you have the hang of the mechanics, another area has you catching falling pieces of the environment, shaken loose by an earthquake, and moving them back and forth in time, freezing them in place to use as platforms. This level works incredibly well and makes for some quirky puzzles and entertaining gameplay.
A few levels later, dramatic moments in the main character’s life story reveal the shadow beings known as Sorrows, which need to be avoided at all costs. They attack the character in waves and threaten to overwhelm him. If you allow a few of them to touch you, the Norseman becomes overwhelmed with sadness, and it is “Game Over”.
Interesting environmental mechanics have been used to add unique challenges to each level of the game. In one section, I was required to move quickly from campfire to campfire on a snowy mountainside to avoid freezing. To add an extra level of challenge to the proceedings, ice sheets had to be navigated as well, which required slowing down and extra-careful movement to prevent me from sliding off the side of the mountain to my death.
Water, fire, and even low-gravity sections were used to mix up the platforming gameplay, which really stopped the game from wearing out its welcome. I must say that the variety worked wonderfully and gave each chapter a slightly different challenge. The level where I was required to navigate across what looked like giant pink marshmallows and bouncy Mentos was particularly entertaining, although I don’t really know what the platforms were meant to represent. In the low-gravity segment, I needed to piece together large sections of meteorite to create bridges. It was these differences in level design and gameplay that made me want to push on and see what was going to come next.
“Memories” are collectibles scattered liberally around the maps to make you explore a little bit further, and when collected, you are presented with a child-like drawing illustrating an event from the past. These memories juxtaposed with the life being explored through the game have a lot of poignancy, which is accentuated by an appropriate musical soundtrack to really make you feel for the Norseman. During the tougher moments of his life, when the Norseman is threatened by the Sorrows, I was able to connect with how he was feeling, which shows that the developers have done a great job in conveying the character’s emotion to the player without any use of dialogue.
If there is one complaint that I have with the game, it’s that the camera angle could sometimes be deceiving, and cause me to fall off some of the platforms. This is not ideal in a platforming game but it is really not that big of an issue and is more likely me needing to get good.
‘Arise: A Simple Story’ is a well-designed Platform Puzzler with a very clever time manipulation mechanic. The game is very striking visually and the musical score picks you up and carries you along the way with it. The puzzles are not over-taxing but are challenging enough to keep you interested and create a nice, chill gaming experience. If you are looking for a platformer game that will take you on a bit of an emotional journey, you should check this out.