Played on Xbox Series X
‘Just keep on shining and you can honour their memory,
Sometimes that’s all we can do for the ones we love’
This rather profound statement has stayed with me ever since it was uttered by the main character after being led to the bodies of hundreds of ‘Flumye’ machines by the only remaining one of their kind. Having played ‘Gris’ on Game Pass for PC and absolutely loving it, I was instantly drawn to Aspire after seeing the art style in a game trailer. Can this possibly live up to those very high standards? Is it even fair to compare them on the art style and game type alone? Let’s find out as we try to escape a tower, in the Xbox Era review of Aspire: Ina’s Tale.
The Great Escape
Ina is described as a Priestess, a Spiritual Guide, and the ‘Heart’ of the tower where she awakens after a long dream-filled sleep. She soon comes across some dead giant Knights and it is suggested that some form of attack has recently taken place, possibly with the intention of freeing her from captivity. After coming across a Joker and a Thief in the dungeon cells (perhaps in a nod to ‘All along the Watchtower’ by Bob Dylan) Ina learns that she must track down and talk to the incredibly Venetian looking ‘Architect’ who created the tower to find out how to escape from it.
The idea of this side-scrolling adventure is to guide Ina through the various levels of the tower overcoming obstacles via platforming sequences and puzzle-solving sections. Each area of the tower has a unique visual style and colour palette applied to it but also contains a sacred monument. Acting as ‘The Keeper of Kamiura’ Ina can unlock the spirits held in these monuments (Although it is never really explained why) and each one helps her to navigate through that particular section of the building.
Welcome to the Machine
The first Spirit I unlocked was the ‘Spirit of Energy’ a glowing orb that can be used to power ancient technology. This is used to bring machines to life and when combined with moveable blocks and small lanterns will defend Ina from creatures living in the darkness who want to kill her. After platforming your way to an orb, it will follow you and can be transferred multiple times between different objects until you eventually lose it to a stationary piece of machinery, such as when opening a gate. Sometimes multiple objects have to be moved closer together to magnify the light to a certain level. This was necessary to bring a ‘Flumye’ back to life late in the dungeon level and enabled it to fly ahead of me and dissolve webs of a black ‘tar-like’ substance that were impeding my progress.
Other spirits I made use of during my playthrough were the ‘Spirit of Movement’ and the ‘Spirit of Magnitude’. The first was represented by what looks like a pink triangle of pie from the ‘Trivial Pursuit’ board game and allows various platforms and hanging ropes to move in different directions aiding platform traversal greatly. The second looks like a small green square and increases the size of certain blocks in the form of a square or a rectangle. At times all three spirits can be found nearby and must be used together to solve a puzzle to progress further on your journey.
It is essential to explore everywhere. Hidden off the beaten track are ‘Memory Stones’ which contain the memories of the various characters that you come across such as the aforementioned Joker, Thief, and another called the ‘Guiding Light’. Whether the tower has fed off these memories and removed them from the individuals is not clear but next to each one of these is a piece of poetry about existence. Reuniting people with their memories is a nice thing to do, but if this does not really interest you the generous Achievements rewarded for discovering each stone should be enough to make it worth your while seeking these bad boys out.
The Great Gig in the Sky
The platforming is well designed with fairly simple controls allowing Ina to run, jump, slide, climb, push and pull objects, etc. as you would expect in a game of this type. Gameplay is by no means an easy ride. About an hour in I became stuck after being cornered by one of the dungeon beasts and it took something like fifteen attempts to get me out of my predicament. I had trouble seeing the solution even though it was right in front of me.
The puzzle sections are pretty intuitive but can at times be slightly tricky. I found two or three that completely stumped me, but after walking away for a while they were solved after being looked at with fresh eyes.
There was one puzzle (just after meeting the Architect) that I found exceptionally frustrating as I could not progress for a good amount of time. After some investigation, however, It turned out to be a glitch and not a fiendishly designed puzzle at all. A game restart got rid of the issue and I have made the developer aware of it so no one else should suffer the same fate on release day.
Ina can die from falling off the map, landing in water, or being attacked by the various enemies that she comes across, but there are lots of automatic save points so this is not really a problem. The Boss battle with the final tower protection system known as the Shardak is interesting as it takes place in three different sections. In each one, you need to make your way to a lever and turn it off to weaken and finally shut him down. The third part is a vertical climb against the clock with the environment around you being destroyed as you travel through it. This was quite a stressful experience as the slightest mistake with a jump or the mistimed use of a spirit will doom your run, as everything is destroyed around you. After several retries, It was extremely satisfying when I finally completed this battle.
Shine on you Crazy Diamond
There are similarities to ‘Gris’ in both the art style and the music which is used to create a changing mood for each section of the tower that is being explored. The music ranges from a quiet piano motif at the beginning to an emotionally sweeping, Japanese-sounding piece at the game’s climax. I particularly enjoyed a repeated section between levels where Ina travels through a kind of psychedelic crystal hall of mirrors while an awesome piece of music plays. Time slows down slightly, so you can see multiple images of Ina (who happens to look like my red-headed cousin) and it is rather trippy.
A far deeper aspect to the character of Ina is hinted at but never really explored. She mentions her father and her training but nothing is really confirmed to give the player better context regarding her surroundings and situation. I found the story intriguing but can honestly say that at the end of the game I was not any the wiser about the back story or why Ina found herself in her predicament.
In terms of Accessibility, the game does not offer more than standard options for Audio and Image.
In conclusion, Aspire: Ina’s Tale is a well-designed adventure puzzle platformer with an emotionally descriptive musical soundtrack. The platforming and puzzle design is very good and contains some challenging moments, even for fans of the genre. The art style suits the game well with colour being put to good use to bring the different tower environments to life. This is no ‘Gris’ but that game is so special I knew that it was never going to be. It would be unfair to be put off by that though as this game stands proudly on its own two feet. I recommend this as a good use of up to five hours of your gaming time. Go and try it for yourselves.