Rise & Shine is one of those games that almost slipped under my radar, but I’m glad it didn’t. Releasing in early-mid January is a risk sometimes, as gamers are usually still working on their holiday hauls, and reviewers like myself take the typically slow time of the year to catch up on our mountainous backlogs. Luckily for me, though, I actually eliminated my backlog early this year, and had to go searching for something else to play—leading me to this enjoyable little action-platformer.

Rise & Shine takes place on the world of Gamearth. Here, many of the great video game characters we’ve come to know and love over the years live in peace, and maintain the safety of the planet’s less-famous denizens. When the hyper-violent armies of planet Nexgen decide it’s time to invade, the forces of Gamearth are no match. Thus, a new hero must rise, and the magical gun Shine—which bestows infinite respawns—must be taken up by a new champion. In this case, it’s a young boy named Rise. Now, Rise and Shine must travel across Gamearth looking for the means to stop Nexgen’s invasion and save their world.

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While the story of Rise & Shine is pretty straightforward no matter how you look at it—kill all the bad guys, save the world—where it excels is in its unique setting, which allows the writing to both poke fun at and celebrate gaming. Rise complaining about how much it hurts each time he dies and respawns, the king’s throne being made of SNES consoles, and even the stereotypical leader of the Nexgen army offer some fun tongue-in-cheek humor that makes you want to keep pushing forward.

And there will be times you need that something to keep pushing forward, because Rise & Shine’s gameplay can be punishing. Although there are a fair amount of puzzles that bar your progress forward, none are as testing of your patience as the moments when your screen will fill with enemies and you’re forced to duck behind cover and pray. Being a child, Rise has very limited health, and will often fall after only a direct hit or two—whereas the force he is facing can fill the screen with projectiles almost like a bullet hell. It requires some trial and error before patterns become evident, and even then, Shine’s limited ammo before having to reload (you have infinite bullets, but you start with only being able to have 10 in the chamber at a time) can come back to bite you at the worst times. I personally didn’t mind that it harkens back in many ways to the early days of gaming, but the degree of difficulty will surely be an acquired taste for some.

At the very least, you’ll always look good while dying. One of Rise & Shine’s most impressive aspects is definitely its colorful, cartoony art style that pops off the screen, featuring comic book panel-style cutscenes tying everything together. The cute, rounded features of all the characters give it the aesthetic of a Saturday morning cartoon aimed at younger audiences. The stark contrast against the blood and gore from killing enemies or being killed, and the dark undertone of a planetary invasion, then made this design choice all the more striking.

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I only wish the game’s mechanics had grabbed me as forcefully as the art style did. Whether you find the gameplay difficult or not, it quickly tends to become rather one dimensional either way. Using the right stick to aim and right trigger to fire worked well enough within the parameters of an action-platformer—even one as punishing as this—but Shine only gets a couple of forced upgrades over the course of the game to go along with optional clip upgrades. These upgrades—an electric bullet to power terminals in puzzles, guided bullets to hit buttons down narrow passageways, and a grenade launcher to arc shots over barricades—are extremely situational in most cases. Sure, the electric bullets can also be effective against robots, but I found myself defaulting back to my original bullets most of the time. And, with no real powers in regards to Rise, dodging and shooting the same handful of enemies became tiresome after awhile, especially when failing in those trial-and-error shooting scenarios.

Rise & Shine also has the unfortunate distinction of being another Indie game that just feels like it ends abruptly. Three hours into the game, it felt like the bottom fell out, and that I was only scratching the surface of what Gamearth had to offer. It also made certain sections of the adventure, like the barrage of mini-games on “NPC Island,” feel all the more random and out of place. Sure, it could be going back to that overarching commentary on games of this ilk in general, but it didn’t change the fact that because of the compact nature of the game, elements like this felt like they came out of left field.

Even with these rough edges, though, I found I enjoyed most of my time with Rise & Shine. I would’ve loved a longer, more thorough visit to Gamearth, but its strong writing, attractive art style, and solid—if not shallow—gameplay were more than enough to keep me going until I had turned Rise into a hero worthy of carrying Shine. Now, excuse me as I try to go figure out how to build my own throne out of SNES consoles.

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Publisher: Adult Swim Games • Developer: Super Awesome Hyper Dimensional Mega Team • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 01.13.17
7.0
Rise & Shine isn’t the deepest action-platformer you’ll ever play, but the tongue-in-cheek nods to the gaming industry at large, along with its stunning art style, will push you to the finish line even when the gameplay starts to let you down.
The Good Visually arresting and smartly written.
The Bad Mechanics wear thin after some time; ending feels abrupt.
The Ugly I think I died less in Dark Souls.
Rise & Shine is available on Xbox One and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Adult Swim Games for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.
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