Quick Take: In Rise & Shine, invaders from Nexgen attack Gamearth, a world full of gaming history, and only a young boy and his talking gun can save the day.
Every so often, a game comes around that just bleeds so much coolness that you can’t help but to love it. Even if that game is buggy, or terribly difficult, or feels unfinished, the coolness factor can trump all of those complaints and you are still left with a magnificent going experience. That about sums up Rise & Shine, from developer Super Awesome Hyper Dimensional Mega Team and published by Adult Swim Games. Rise & Shine has so much cool stuff going on, and players can overlook how stupid hard it is, or how short it is, or how unfinished the story feels, and just revel in the fact that Super Mega Team loves video game history, and Rise & Shine is a testament to that.
In Rise & Shine, you play as Rise, a young boy who is tasked with taking a talking gun, named Shine, of course, to the King of Gamearth. Delivering this gun will somehow beat back the invading forces of Nexgen, who are destroying Gamearth for some reason. If the Guides be willing, Rise and his new partner Shine can complete the mission and save the world.
Gamearth itself is a love letter to all of the games that have come before it. I found myself smiling at all of the random legacy game references, like Zelda, Q*bert, Mario, Gears of War, and more. In fact, I could sit here and list all of the references that I personally have experienced, and still wouldn’t even cover it. It’s hard to take in the backgrounds of the wonderfully designed and layered world when bullets and mines, and enemies keep trying to kill me.
The gameplay in Rise & Shine is simple, side scrolling shoot-’em-up fare, with a few twists along the way. Rise can fire various forms of ammo, including player-controlled seeking bullets. But trying to maneuver a bullet through cracks and around obstacles is a chore, and no amount of practice can make it easier. Rise has a jump and a double jump, and a dash move. Levels are generally straight forward, with hidden access to power-ups scattered all throughout. Boss battles are exercises in frustration, with there being multiple steps needed to take them out. It’s not a simple, “shoot them in the head or glowing eye,” no, in Rise & Shine, you have to shoot this part X number of times, then dodge this kind of attack, and then use your magic tracking bullet to hit a spot on the hulking boss’ back, and then rinse and repeat until he’s dead.
And I wouldn’t really call Rise & Shine a bullet hell game, as there are never enough enemies on screen at one time to cause that much havoc. Conflict areas usually contain some kind of cover for Rise to use (but it can be destroyed) and players can precision aim with the right stick to hit enemies and even bullets out of the sky. Rise can only take one or two hits before he’s graphically destroyed. Shine gives him unlimited continues, but that still doesn’t make up for the difficulty here — and I say this as a 43-year-old veteran of such classic NES games like Rush ‘N Attack, Gradius, and the first Mega Man game (which was STUPID hard).
Rise & Shine pushes the difficulty envelope and it will test your patience, for all the three hours or so of game time. It is on the short side, even for an “indie,” and there’s not much incentive to keep playing after that final boss falls. The story ends, but things are left unresolved, and it just feels rushed and unfinished.
But amidst all of that, the wonderful art direction, bright a vibrant color palette, and one of the best scores in a game this year still makes Rise & Shine a must play for gaming fans. It’s hard not to play with a smile on your face as you see street signs for exit ramps to Kakariko Village, or see a destroyed store front called “Guile’s,” or the many other hidden gems scattered in this game.
Rise & Shine is a love letter to truly old school gaming. And even though it’s short, difficult, and most times frustrating as hell, I loved playing it and will play through it again just to take in more of the visuals and the incredible score. If you love old school video games, this is a game for you. But be prepared to take your lumps and to be frustrated. Just like the old days.
Rise & Shine is available as a digital download for the Xbox One. This review is based off a code provided by the publisher.