There are few pleasures in gaming more potent than conquering a tough encounter through sheer endurance. If you can handle a game's trial and error, succeeding after countless failed attempts can be exhilarating and propel you forward towards the next challenge, and you come out at the end as a master of that game's various mechanics. This style of design flourished around the 16-bit era, with SNES and Genesis titles that were overly difficult due to a multitude of factors. Super Mega Team's Rise & Shine harkens back to those days without being overly punishing, creating an authentic 16-bit experience surrounded by a lavish modern presentation. Simply put, there is a lot of beautiful art to take in and plenty of combat puzzles to solve if you can get past a multitude of references and a questionable run time.
Gamearth is under attack by the space marine forces of Nexgen, and it's up to the son of a hero, an ancient firearm, and the all-knowing "guides" up above to take them on and protect this sanctum of retro gaming. Yes, the theme of retro versus AAA is pretty much hammered into the player, with lead character Rise fighting his way past legally dissimilar stand-ins for the Mushroom Kingdom and Q*bert. In addition, the enemy characters are pretty clearly the COG from Gears of War, and these similarities are so close that they distract from any unique ideas that Rise & Shine's world might bring to the table. I don't mind the constant references, as the gaming medium is old enough to support this type of reverence, but there's a fine line between a respectful tribute and a cover band just playing the hits for nostalgia's sake.
Thankfully, Rise & Shine has solid gameplay to back up its premise. The combat is responsive and fast paced, even as it adapts cover shooting to a 2D environment in a surprisingly effective manner. It was extremely satisfying to learn the ropes of each encounter, and I never had trouble with controls or judging the arc of an enemy projectile. The action isn't the star of the show, as most scenarios involved figuring out how to damage foes rather than taking advantage of the game's solid controls. I didn't mind this setup as much as I thought I would going in, but I still honestly had the most fun where the puzzle was just trying to survive waves of enemies rather than timing shots to make a barrel blow up at the right time. The game even plays around a bit with Rise's awareness that he's respawning over and over again, and this fourth wall breaking made for both great post-combat dialogue and fueled the game's most clever puzzles.
Speaking of, puzzle solving really seems to be positioned as the star of the show. Outside of the combat puzzles, the main mechanic involves guiding a slow moving bullet through several areas around enemies to flip a switch or hit a button. These situations play out similar to navigating through a boss encounter in a bullet hell game and usually require you to line up a shot and then fire the bullet outside of the puzzle area. Sadly, this is where the game felt the most frustrating, especially while playing on a controller. The joystick just isn't precise enough to hit targets reliably at the end of these sections, and the game does nothing to compensate for this. Every time you fail, you have to traverse the bullet hell section to try again, leading to scenarios where you're endlessly smashing your head against a tricky puzzle section just to get another oppertunity to hit the final switch.
No matter what you're doing in the game, you're going to love looking at it. Rise & Shine's biggest strength is its production values, with detailed backgrounds that are simply stunning. Art in the cutscenes isn't as detailed as the backgrounds, but all the in-game assets are meticulous, and really show a level of craft that you don't see all that often from a four-person team. Outside of the backgrounds, the gore is probably the most detailed asset in the game, and blasting away at space marines will reveal a level of viscera that earns the game its Mature rating. I usually appreciate this in a game, but I didn't find that the blood and guts really added to this particular experience in a meaningful way, and it was so over the top in places that it felt like a distraction from the enjoyable combat scenarios.
Of course, these production values do hurt the game in one regard, and that is its length. At most, the campaign will last you five hours, and I've seen some skilled players cutting that runtime in half in the week since the game released. Side characters are stripped of everything but function, and it feels like the story is a beginning and an end without that meaty middle section where you feel one with the controls. For example, Rise has a female companion that he meets on his adventure. She shows up once to establish that she exists, once to be a damsel in distress, and once at the end to join our hero in his victory. She doesn't even have any dialogue, instead speaking in heart emojis. This would be a cool concept, but it's undercut by a complete lack of explanation as to why she talks this way or who she is. Rise's mother shows up exactly once in order to provide exposition and cry about him going on an adventure. Every secondary character is like this, and the entire experience suffers from a feeling that there are huge chunks of game missing from this release.
Rise & Shine accomplishes a lot of technical feats, but the game as a whole feels completely lacking. The story is threadbare despite the interesting premise, held up by endless references to games that overstay their welcome. The presentation is amazing, but the game's lack of depth and short length make me feel that this artwork was prioritized over things that would have made the game a more worthwhile and memorable experience. I'd love to see a richer experience come along that nails the Gears of War combat in a 2D space as much as this game does, but that leaves Rise & Shine as little more than a low-level character waiting to level up.
Hey, if they can get away with cheap gaming jokes, so can I.
Rise & Shine makes an amazing first impression, but the game hiding underneath lacks the depth and replayability of the many SNES action games that it attempts to imitate.
- Amazing Art Throughout
- Clever Puzzle Solutions
- Solid 2D Shooting
- Paper Thin Characters
- Frustrating Puzzle Mechanics
- Short and Shallow Campaign