Games: Pixar meets Studio Ghibli in visually astonishing adventure Arise: A Simple Story

Arise's chubby hero looks not unlike a bereaved Santa
Neil McGreevy

Arise: A Simple Story (Multi)

By: Techland

WHEN arguing for games as art, the joypad intelligentsia often cite 2012 chin-stroker Journey. More vibe than game, Sony's critical darling may have starred what looked like a carpet remnant schlepping its way to a mountain, but its influence has spawned a glut of copycats.

The latest, Barcelona-bound Piccolo Studios' debut, owes an obvious debt to Journey – and its emosh are equally totes in a big, warm hug of a game that's perfect company for a well banked fire of a winter's night.

A brief story of time, Arise kicks off with your bloated body roasting on a funeral pyre. As opening scenes go – it's a downer. Waking up in limbo, your bittersweet trek to the light is interrupted by levels focusing on key moments from the old duffer's life. Over five hours, our chubby coot indulges in limbo-bound larks with 10 dialogue-free chapters boasting abstract names such as She, Joy and Away.

Flush with ravishing moments, our hero – looking for all the world like a bereaved Santa – trudges through snowdrifts and foreboding caves, across sun-dappled flowers and even along fallopian tubes.

Never mind the symbolics, though, as Arise's platforming showcases a fantastic hook. Using the right analogue stick, players can take control of time itself, raising and lowering water levels, changing the direction of sun-thirsty flowers and even pausing precise moments to use, say, a piece of breaking cliff as a handy platform.

And the time-warping conceit is trotted out in ever-more imaginative ways, allowing our elderly hero to hitch rides on snails and bees or shoo off shadowy doppelgangers by freezing lightning strikes. Though levels are simple A-to-B affairs, players can also truffle out collectable pencil drawings along the way to flesh out the story.

Unfortunately, sacrificing the right stick to alter time means there's no way to control the camera, which has been a staple for 3D platformers since Mario 64. As a result, platform-hopping can be a lesson in frustration, with ill-defined distances compounded by trial and error leaps of faith. It's frustrating, but by no means a deal-breaker.

Technically, Arise belies its modest budget with visuals as crisp as the driven snow you'll trudge through. Our pleasingly Plasticine-esque hero gambols through vivid landscapes painted with a gorgeous palette, and all backed up with soothing piano melodies that soar with strings and choirs during its many soul-stirring moments.

A short 'n' bittersweet antidote to those big-budget blockbusters gumming up the Christmas window, Pixar meets Studio Ghibli in this visually astonishing and touchingly told cockle-warmer that makes for a wonderful solo gaming experience.

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