Platforms: Xbox One (Reviewed), PC

Rise & Shine is a game that’s all about defying expectations. At first glance, the charming visual style and cute characters are reminiscent of a game you might find on mobile devices, with the bright colors and smooth art style taking center stage. If you just skim over screenshots, you’d be excused for thinking it was a simple game that holds your hand through every level.

But don’t be fooled by first impressions; this arcade shooter from Super Mega Team and Adult Swim Games is anything but easy.

The Fate of Gamearth

In Rise & Shine you take on the role of Rise, a young boy with wide eyes and bushy hair. It takes place in the peaceful and classically designed world of Gamearth, which was once overflowing with 16-bit characters and references to old-school gaming. But that was all before the futuristic space grunts of Nexgen invaded.

If you’re catching a slightly tongue-in-cheek undertone here that straddles the line between self-aware meta commentary and flat-out parody, then that’s likely on purpose. The story revolves around you – literally you, the person playing the game – as you take divine control over Rise, the chosen one, who has been granted the ability to control the sacred gun Shine. As luck would have it, The Legendary Hero of Gamearth (yes, that’s his name) grants Shine to Rise with his last dying breath, ensuring him the ability to respawn forever.

One interesting catch is that Shine isn’t just an extremely powerful weapon, but an entity that can talk as well. Shine acts as your guide throughout the game, giving you tips as you go, as well as learning new abilities.

More Than Meets The Eye

As we already said, Rise & Shine is a game about defying expectations. What begins as a seemingly innocuous journey full of jokes and laughs quickly flips a switch to take on a more serious tone, only to bounce back towards its comical underpinnings once again. It feels like competing ideals are at odds throughout the game, never fully grasping the weight of the story’s implications for its characters while simultaneously cutting itself short with the sometimes heavy-handed humor.

That’s not to say that it doesn’t work for the most part, because it does, and I was certainly smiling at all of the various Easter eggs and references I noticed throughout the adventure. However, it sometimes feels like it could have been so much better if it fully committed to being a silly, slapstick romp through a meta game world about other games.

Luckily, the somewhat lackluster implementation of the story doesn’t detract from the wonderfully detailed and beautiful world on display. Every background is hand-painted with gorgeous detail and features several layers of parallax movement and detail. It feels like a modern artist illustrated a re-interpretation of the 90s era of gaming, then made that into a game. It’s almost like exploring the worlds inside of Super Nintendo game box art designs.

Trial and Error

Rise & Shine is played by moving around as you would in any other sidescroller, but there are shooter elements, platforming segments, and even some occasional puzzles to solve sprinkled in as well. It’s a veritable cocktail of gaming styles, which does a wonderful job of keeping the action fresh and engaging. Unlike the scattered narrative, the varied gameplay pieces all compliment each other to create an overall package that never gets dull.

For the core run and gun moments, you aim Shine using the right analog stick if playing on an Xbox One controller, which does feel good, but is difficult to be accurate with across long distances. That usually isn’t much of an issue, however.

During the adventure you acquire new types of bullets as well as new ways of shooting bullets, requiring you to swap between ammo and abilities on the fly. In small-scale firefights, you can hide behind waist-high cover, waiting for your chance to pop out and inflict damage. Lining up your shots is important, because later on in the game each shot matters more than ever as the boss fights and late-game enemies are extremely difficult.

The cute visuals do a good job of masking an otherwise tough-as-nails action game that definitely earns its place among the difficult games of yesteryear that clearly inspired it.