There’s something about a story-driven, adventure-platformer that I find hard to resist. Especially if it’s a beautiful and calming game that slowly draws you in before drowning you in its charm. Developer Piccolo Studio and publisher Techland are the teams behind Arise: A Simple Story, a delightful little game that delivers on so much of what I adore.
Embark on an emotional journey of losing the love of one’s life. Manipulate time, solve puzzles, reshape surroundings as you push forward into the bittersweet recollections of a past life. This is a story about happiness and hardship, joy and sorrow. A story that all of us will one day experience.
How to start this review? I guess at the start… with you being dead. Yup, you play as an older and recently deceased man. The intro to the game shows your tribe burning your body after death. Cremated, and dearly missed, you find yourself in the afterlife and reliving important events of your life. Each level of the game is a representation of important moments from your character’s life, starting out with childhood and progressing through to his teenage years, adulthood, old age and, of course, eventual death. As you make your way through the game and its levels, you learn a little bit more about your character’s life. The narrative of the game is slowly revealed and all without heavy use of text or voice acting.
Arise: A Simple Story is a very visual game and those visuals are used brilliantly to portray the events of the character’s life. For example, those earlier childhood levels are full of bright, playful imagery and cover happiness and innocence. The more adult-themed levels are not as ‘flowery’ and deal with loneliness and darker themes. Then the level that explores reproduction, birth and fatherhood is more ‘fallopian tubey’. The art design of each level is wonderful and the visuals are used fantastically well to tell you the story of life.
But enough of how this game looks, how does it play? Well, what you have with Arise: A Simple Story is a platformer with a bit of an interesting twist. You’ll be doing all the usual stuff such as climbing, jumping and all of that, you even get to use a grappling hook to swing over gaps. But thrown into the mix is the ability to manipulate time. Control your character with the left stick, as is the norm for a platforming game. But the right stick controls time to rewind or fast forward time around you. See, your character is unaffected by the time control but the environment isn’t. The controlling of time changes the levels in many ways. You can make sunflowers follow the sun to be used as platforms. Use your grappling hook to latch onto a bee, then forward or reverse time to make the bee fly you around. Water levels rise and lower platforms as you adjust and tinker with the world around you and so much more.
Each level of the game is not only a visual treat that helps tell the story of your character’s life, each level also throws new and interesting ways to use this time manipulation to your advantage. Arise: A Simple Story is a simple game, in that it doesn’t try to do anything too demanding. You’ll pick up the controller, spend 2 minutes getting used to everything and that’ll be it, you’ll be 100% comfortable with what you are meant to be doing. I don’t think I could ever call the game ‘hard’ either, nor is it meant to be. This is a lovingly casual trip through life, stopping off at all of the important milestones that we all look back on fondly as we get older.
You also get a large dose of emotion thrown in. Playing through Arise: A Simple Story, I just could not help but think about people in my life, my family and friends. People who are no longer in my life and those I have lost over the years. Family members and friends who have sadly passed away. This game had me reflecting on personal relationships that failed, as well as those that worked. It had me looking at the kind of father I am and aim to be. There is something here that plays on your emotions and offers a great depth of storytelling… all without any dialogue.
Around £16 is what Arise: A Simple Story is going to cost you. For that, you get 10 levels and around 5 to 6 hours before you’ll see the end credits. However, there are some hidden and sentimental collectables that you can find, which help to flesh out some backstory. If you want to get the most out of this, and I really do suggest that you do, you can add a few more hours to that playtime. Arise: A Simple Story is stunningly beautiful to look at, one of the most attractive games I have played in a good while, in fact. With levels and a narrative that can really hit you on a personal level. Do you know what? I even had a tear in my eye as I played.