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The through line that binds the various chapters together is the man’s relationship with his childhood playmate who eventually became his lifelong spouse. During the game’s opening section, “She,” the old man visits a grassy area where he comes upon a statue of himself sitting on a rock as a solitary toddler. In the near distance, separated by water, are other small green fields. Tilting the controller’s right stick forward and backward accelerates and rewinds time, causing the water levels to rise and fall. Thus, a simple early puzzle in the game requires you to stand on a piece of beached driftwood and manipulate time so the water gathers beneath the wood, allowing you to float to a previously unreachable small landmass.
By roaming through the levels and peeking into odd corners, players will discover shiny shards of light or memories that flesh out the context of each level. One of the first of the memories you’re likely to come upon shows the old man as a toddler watching a group of kids busy themselves in activity without him, reinforcing the underlying logic of the level with its isolated fields marooned by water. Further into the level one comes across a memory that commemorates the first time that the child, who would mature into the love of his life, befriended him. And the level closes with the old man seeing a statue of himself as a youngster giving the girl a flower.
It’s the next stage, “Joy,” where “Arise” truly begins to shine. The level, which evokes the bliss of childhood, teems with oversized plants and docile insects that sway and move as players manipulate time. Using a rope, the old man can climb onto bees that will ferry him between gigantic flowers. In later levels that reflect more difficult periods of the man’s life, tinkering with time will lighten up and darken the screen, but in “Joy” there are only gradations of beautifully rendered sunlight to enjoy.
“Arise” is almost completely devoid of adversaries and is none the worse for it. The enemy the man encounters is a legion of shadows that will consume him if he tarries in their presence. Checkpoints are generous, while death from a fall, the cold or drowning results in a quick restart, and the platforming sequences are of light to moderate difficulty. Everything in the game is tuned so players can get lost in the overall journey as opposed to having to cope with difficulty spikes.
I found the soundtrack overly emotive, but the levels often cradle the eyes’ attention. In “Fruit,” a chapter devoted to the time in his life when his wife was pregnant, players have the unique opportunity to slide along an umbilical cord. Frankly, I wasn’t particularly moved by the man’s ups and downs as much as I was in the developers’ use of platforming mechanics and level design to tell a universal tale about the stages of human existence.
“Arise: A Simple Story” is a game that coasts on its gentle visual language. It’s a good option for those looking for a family-friendly game.
Christopher Byrd is a Brooklyn-based writer. His work has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the New Yorker and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Byrd.
February 7, 2020 at 03:11AM By Christopher Byrd