Playing on PC with an Xbox One controller, I pushed the right thumbstick left to rewind time and right to fast forward it. I could explore that timeline at will as I moved through the 3D levels, normally pushing forward like in a Crash Bandicoot level. You can watch that entire flow of time in one go, or move through just portions of it, which you’ll often need to do to complete a level.The first stage I played (the second level of Arise), titled “Joy,” follows the man as he recounts a day as a kid playing in the fields chasing a kite. It spans from early day to dusk, and while that change in time allows for some gorgeous lighting changes as I moved through the impressionistic, bright world of his imagination, it also is key to solving puzzles. Traversing a certain area demanded that I move time backward and forward to line up giant snails to hop from one mossy platform to their shells to the next mushroom top. Later on, the passage of time allowed me to hop along the tops of sunflowers, which needed to be angled in conjunction with the sun throughout the day to give me the proper height.
The second level I played (the third of the game), meanwhile, took place just within the span of 10 seconds, as the man explored the moments after an earthquake in a forested, hilly region. This area often required me to use falling rocks, other debris, and entire sections of cliffs to my platforming advantage. I gained the ability to slow down time here, and could use this to finely pinpoint the moment when I could hop onto a falling bit of rock, or to jump between sliding bits of rockwall just at the right moment.
At the heart of both of these levels, and in fact all of Arise according to game director Alexis Corominas, is that central ability to rewind time. And that’s not necessarily a new game mechanic — Braid is perhaps the most famous indie example of controlling chronology in gameplay. But Arise’s implementation is continually clever, with the two levels I played consistently changing up how I had to use that ability while also making time an idea central to its emotional arc.That first, daylong level bounces from snails to bees to flowers and even to quickly disappearing spiderwebs that all require some finesse of the time-shifting to navigate through. Arise never proved particularly difficult in either stage I tried, though the spiderwebs definitely offer a bit more challenge. As for the earthquake level, because events only play out over the course of 10 seconds, if you’re not manipulating time that earthquake will occur, meaning you’re constantly having to move and measure time to determine how to move forward. Even if Arise never broke my brain, its challenges always felt rewarding to complete.
And that theme of time beautifully accentuates this man’s journey. Each level is built around an emotion, like joy or fear, and the specific memories I played through channeled those emotions quite well. The forest’s bright, airy, and warm air played to the joys a child would have experienced, while the relentless inevitability of the earthquake played up the fear and tension of the occasion. And scattered throughout each level are a handful of storyboard art pieces that tell the story of what really happened in that level. Because, of course, the man as a child was not playing with giant snails or hopping on the tops of sunflowers.
Memories can affect how we see the past, and that’s probably even true of how I’m remembering my time with Arise. But what I do precisely remember are two engaging, intriguing levels wrapped up in a time-based gameplay I’m eager to see more of. Piccolo may be playing in familiar territory, but this unique take is offering enough inventive twists in what I’ve seen so far that the studio’s first game could be quite the memorable one.