Once a staple in the video game food pyramid, tough 2D platformers have slowly become a delicacy as rare as fugu. That familiar feeling of frustration in Mega Man, the rage-inducing backward thrust from Castlevania, the myriad, ridiculous ways of dying in Bubsy, where did it all go? These games were difficult and proud of it. More recently, not many titles have dared enter that sacred difficulty zone, Super Meat Boy and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze being notable exceptions. The result when they do? Madness. Brilliance. A special kind of intrigue that keeps you coming back for more. So imagine my surprise when I began Rise & Shine, a modern platforming game that hits remarkably close to the target.
It takes a lot to impress a seasoned platforming veteran, but the combination of varied level design and relentless enemies keeps Rise & Shine consistently entertaining. The protagonist Rise is a brave, orange-hoodie wearing young boy who is entrusted by a dying legendary warrior to save planet Gamearth. He gives Rise a talking gun called Shine, which grants infinite respawns and high resistance, but definitely not high enough. There are miniature drones that can wipe you out in one hit, fire geysers erupting from pits, and random grenades exploding all around you. Dealing with all the one-hit deaths is challenging, sometimes even borderline frustrating, and you can’t manually save your progress. However, much like the games of yesteryear, you adapt; the difficulty level is never out of reach, and very quickly the whole experience becomes enjoyable. Additionally, there are well dispersed checkpoints that autosave after harder sections, and offer a substantial sense of relief.
Along the way, you pick up weapon enhancements like laser light for improved aim, electric bullets, and an RC add on which basically lets you adjust the trajectory of bullets in slow motion, a bit like James McAvoy in Wanted. The bullet reloading speed is good, but in terms of controls, it’s far easier to use a keyboard and mouse combo over controller, which doesn’t lend enough reaction time for precision aiming. Rise & Shine has some nice elements of puzzle-solving woven into it too, like the aerial labyrinths that make you guide a bullet through them to help dismantle barriers, or outsmarting overpowered robots. With so much of the gameplay keeping you occupied, it’s easy to forget to stop and admire the colourful, cartoonish visuals.
Rise & Shine comes with a very mecha, trashy apocalyptic vibe that isn’t entirely original but still works as a theme, because it prioritises gameplay. Both the aesthetics and techno-leaning soundtrack complement the running and gunning quite nicely, and there are even subtle nods to Zelda for the perceptive player. Throughout the city wastelands, environmental colours fade and change, creating intrigue and seamlessly pulling you into the next puzzle or battlezone. Occasionally, the fusion of buildings, platforms and bits of scrap metal can make gameplay slightly obscure, but very minimally.
As throwback to tough 2D platformers of the past, Rise & Shine does a fine job of replicating their essence for a modern audience to enjoy, and isn’t afraid to embrace hard fun.
Rise & Shine is due for release in 2017 on PC and Xbox One.