Every once in a while, a small indie game can come along and surprise you — something you are not expecting to be at all notable ends up becoming one of your most memorable gaming experiences. For me, some of these games are Game Dev Tycoon and Emily is Away. Both are very distinct, but do something unique and addicting in their respective genres to make them stand out in my mind.
When I first discovered Lone Hero Studios’ Rising Islands, I saw a lot of potential; the game had an interesting and fast-paced dimension switching mechanic, and had me looking forward to it, hoping that it would be another one of these experiences. Sadly, Rising Islands never truly fulfills its potential, and while its gameplay can be great at times, the rest of the game is not up to par.
Rising Islands’ plot is very simple, but serviceable, for a adventure/platforming game. Chaos and Discord used to rule the land before they were locked away by the Ancients, who created relics, which were put in three temples. Over time, this created peace and balance. But now, after many years, someone has set Chaos free, and it will soon destroy the land. A young girl named Hairo gets the power to shift between dimensions, and must go on a quest through fast paced platforming levels in order to restore the relics in the temples and stop chaos.
While the story won’t be winning any awards, it gives the player a reason to keep moving forward, so it succeeds on that front. Sadly, it is delivered through poorly drawn and crudely edited cut-scenes, along with badly written and translated dialogue. A pun about electricity is not as humorous when “shocking” is misspelled as “chocking.” Overall, not much attention was paid to the story, and while it is not the main focus of this game, the lack of effort is disappointing.
The best thing about Rising Islands is its gameplay. A combination of running, jumping, and climbing through levels while switching dimensions is fast-paced and fun to play. Players run around and can switch dimensions at the press of a button. As one progresses through the game, they will unlock new abilities, such as grinding, which add to the level design and vary up the game’s stages. The game controls very well, and one can tell a lot of effort was put into making Hairo control properly.
While some of the game’s earlier levels are more limited, the later levels use Hairo’s abilities to its fullest and create an amazing experience. The rush I felt was exhilarating as Hairo quickly switched dimensions as I jumped from wall-to-wall. These moments save the experience, but even they are limited, with only thirteen levels total in the game and the more interesting ones coming in the later half. The game controls exceptionally well and is animated fluidly enough to give the player a sense of speed and expertise, but there really should be more levels to do so on.
Rising Islands has a huge emphasis on speedrunning. If the player knows what they are doing, they can get through some levels in 30 seconds or less. Its Time Trial mode puts players skills to the test to see how fast they can get through a level. Time Trial really does showcase the game’s sense of speed, offering some replay-ability after the game is beaten.
As a bonus incentive, the top three players’ times are featured in the menus. There is no indication of your rank if you are not in the top three, which is disappointing. Larger leaderboards would help build a stronger community around the game, instead of limited those in the lead. Time Trial is still fun regardless, and is most likely where one will spend most of their time if they stick around after beating the story.
While Hairo is designed well and some of the game’s environments look good, most levels are poorly textured and underwhelming. The game goes for a cel-shaded style, but it is not done well enough, and ultimately comes off as lacking in quite a few areas.
The game’s soundtrack can be quite memorable and catchy, but the rest of the sound design is poorly done. Cut-scenes lack many sound effects, and the game’s horrible sound mixing means sounds will sometimes activate late, really breaking the immersion. If the sound was done better, the cut-scenes would feel more complete and the game more intriguing. Rising Islands otherwise is very nice to listen to, so it is disappointing that the rest of the games sound is not done as well.
I also ran into a glitch when attempting to use a controller. While the game boasts controller support, and even recommends it, when I attempted to do so with both an Xbox 360 controller and then a PS4 one, the game glitched both times. Controls did not match up with where they were supposed to be, the camera became uncontrollable via constantly spinning, and the game eventually crashed.
Glitches can pop up in Rising Islands very frequently, and while they can be patched out in the future, it is worth noting that they are still present. None were game-braking, but the definitely suck the player out the little immersion that is there. A little more play-testing would have gone a long way for this game; it would have made the entire game a much smoother experience overall.
The game is also criminally short. As mentioned before, the game only consists of thirteen levels, and with a focus on speed running, levels can tend to go by pretty fast. By the time you get a good feeling for the mechanics, the game is nearly over. Additional levels would have fleshed out the game more, and would have made it a more satisfying experience but, as is, the game is barely worth its $10 price tag.
I really wanted to like Rising Islands more than I did. It is a charming concept that is executed poorly. I am interested to see what Lone Hero Studios might do with this series in the future, as it has a lot of untapped potential. Even though its gameplay and soundtrack can be truly invigorating at times, the rest of the presentation is not up to par. Underwhelming graphics, poor sound mixing, and some bad glitches take away from a game concept with great potential.
There is a very interesting game to be found in Rising Islands, but it simply failed to fully realize itself. Speedrunners and fans of fast-paced games might enjoy this, but I’d advise everyone else to try the game’s free demo before purchasing in order to determine whether it is worth your money.