Spanish developer Piccolo Studio's debut title is one that wears its heart on its sleeve. Pitched from the outset as an uncomplicated experience, it embraces that nature to tantalizing effect with a collection of levels that is sure to pull on even the tightest of heartstrings. It's a game that refuses to dabble in complex mechanics or convoluted narratives, and Arise: A Simple Story is all the better for it.
Placed in the shoes of an elderly gentleman, this is a bittersweet tale of his life and the memories he shared with a lover. The man dies at the very beginning of the game and revisits important events that shaped his story in the afterlife, taking the shape of rocky sculptures which become interactable as you draw near. This aspect is what turns the journey into a sombre one -- focused more on the highs before the dread of death starts to creep in.
Thanks to the lack of any voice acting or text, Arise tells its narrative through visual storytelling and smart cues in the environment. It sticks to that tried and true essence of simplicity while still managing to trigger enough of an emotional response that some games could only dream of achieving. With the conclusion of an expiry date already outlined from the very start, this is a trip wholly about the journey which gets you there. It may come across as depressing, but there's enough light at the end of the tunnel to revel in its narrative beauty.
What links those scenes together is rather rudimentary 3D platforming that manages to set itself apart through the implementation of one defining feature. Again, it keeps things simple, but that's the entire point of the experience. You can jump across gaps, swing between ledges through the use of a grappling hook, and scale simple cliff edges with obvious handholds to reach for. You're unlikely to struggle working out which way to head next thanks to its linear nature, although doing so would make for even more time to appreciate what makes the experience unique.
At any point in the game, you're able to control the passage of time. Using the right thumbstick you can rewind or fast-forward the hands on the clock at your leisure and this will massively affect the environment around you. From changing the direction a sunflower points to increasing the build-up of snow during the winter season, every single level introduces a new way to interact with the mechanic.
Things start off relatively simple but it's not too long before you’re grappling to a bug overhead, rewinding time to join it on its flight path, and then jumping off to reach a well-hidden collectable in the area. It’s these sorts of sequences and special moments that make Arise: A Simple Story so memorable. Engaging with nature and manipulating it to your liking is an utter pleasure, while some of the more late-game fantasies are stunning sights to behold. Whether that sense of awe comes from the game's more supernatural side or the moment you leave behind the rules of gravity, you'll know when it hits you.
You don't have to go it alone, however. Local co-operative play allows a friend to jump in and out of the title at any moment, with one player controlling the protagonist and the other judging when to reverse and speed up time. It’s understandable then why online functionality was scrapped because that’s an impossible balancing act when a stranger is involved. A neat addition for those looking to play with a partner on the couch, though.
An initial playthrough of the game's 10 levels will last in the region of five to six hours, but the experience doesn't end there. Each and every area comes packed full of sentimental collectables that add colour to the scene they're depicting, making for pick-ups that add more context to the story. They're worthwhile and do enough of a job to stretch the playtime to near enough double figures.
Although, not a single one of those hours will be spent without something catching your eye. With every level switching up its location and theme, the game is fit to burst with colour and beauty as some truly jaw-dropping scenes rival the likes of Journey. Whether you're hopping from the surface of one sunflower to another or following the light of an orb as it illuminates the darkest corner of a cave, it's all done with a magnificent amount of grace and artistry. Complemented by an ambient soundtrack that softens and crescendos when needed, the experience becomes more than just a visual and auditory delight.
By making a point of keeping things simple, Arise: A Simple Story excels in all the right places. Basic 3D platforming is elevated by the introduction of time manipulation, transforming the beauty of its locations into an interactable piece of art. And when its visual design is already this stunning, it makes for an experience that delights every sense imaginable.