Rising Islands: Review

A world rended by the forces meant to keep it together, a guardian gone mad and a young girl who stands in the way of total chaos. Rising Islands begins with very familiar notes of an unlikely hero being chosen to save the world from a power-hungry villain.

At its heart the game is a very simple platformer. You swing through a bunch of linear levels collecting gems and unlocking portals on your way to stopping the antagonist attaining more power. The thing that makes it stand out from the crowd is the ability to shift between a red and a blue dimension. As the heroine can only interact with red or blue objects if she’s in their corresponding dimension, you find yourself flipping back and forth between them all the time.

Rising Islands was developed by Lone Hero Studios (previously called Mindblown) whose founders met up while studying game design at university in Sweden. For a team of four, one of whom is an intern, producing such a pretty 3D platformer as their first project in under two years (as far as I could tell they started developing in earnest in late 2014) is a very admirable accomplishment.

Going into this genre without much prior experience in game design seems risky as there are a lot of things that have to be fine-tuned for the game to not fall apart. The fun of playing a 3D platformer is mostly derived from those stretches of gameplay when you’re just zipping through a level, perfectly landing combo moves that propel you undisturbed from start to finish. Stopping can only be justified by the player not being nimble enough. Unfortunately, in Rising Islands, this flow is interrupted repeatedly by two things that don’t depend on the skill.

First is the camera. Even if you set the highest mouse sensitivity, turning feels very sluggish. I played using a mouse-and-keyboard and the game was primarily developed with the gamepad in mind, but that doesn’t really excuse the headache of falling to your death thirty times in a row because the camera can’t be made to go faster.

Second is the delay in dimension changing. Clearing later stages of the game depend largely on quickly switching between the blue and red dimensions mid-jump, which gets really frustrating as there is an unspecified cooldown between switching that feels like a bug.

Besides these problems the mechanics of the game are intuitive and nothing feels like it's going to counter your expectations of how physics should work.

The true selling point of Rising Islands is its pristine atmosphere. The game employs a similar oriental style to Avatar: The Last Airbender, with airbrushed, cartoony colours and a soundtrack that doesn’t veer away from that aesthetic. I was a bit disappointed that flipping between the two dimensions didn’t change the way you saw the world in more concrete ways than simply adding a blue or red hue to everything, but that’s just a minor nitpick.

Story is another thing entirely. It feels like the developers saw it as a mere nuisance that stood in the way of the actual gameplay, as it is barely even there. The cut-scene animations are rudimentary at best and the few lines that do any world-building are only delivered at the start of each stage. Your character and the villain say nothing and are voiceless, the game truly suffers from a lack of voice acting. While this could completely derail another game, Rising Islands, being un-apologetically all about the actual gameplay and not about telling a compelling tale of strife against the forces of evil, shouldn’t be dismissed because of a lack of story, it’s just not its thing.

All in all, the game is short, aesthetically pretty and frustrating for a person who doesn’t get to play these kind of games often, but at the end does give you the rewarding feeling of having accomplished some major task. With Rising Islands finished, Lone Hero Studios is setting off to dive into the world of VR with Hellementalz, which hopefully doesn’t mean they will completely abandon the development of their first project.

3 out of 5

+ Graphics
+ Concept & Execution
+ Soundtrack
- Camera
- Story & Cutscnes