"Do you like Donkey Kong Country?"
I ask because it's pivotal to ascertain whatever potential this title may have to one's gaming palate. From the way it looks, the way it plays, and the numerous little tweaks and details to the game's surface, there is no doubt that this was heavily inspired by the classic series' mark in the gaming industry.
Even with this heavy comparison, Rising Dusk has much more to offer than a simple DKC clone. Its style, core gimmick, and Eastern charm give it the gusto to survive on its own, regardless of whatever it may be referencing. Rising Dusk is more akin to what Axiom Verge did for Metroidvania than Mighty No. 9 did for Mega Man.
Whatever one's preference of genre is, there's much to the premise and execution of Rising Dusk that gives it a certain flavor that transcends all that its genre provides. Through enhancements of current-generation development and the wonderful benefit of hindsight, this game goes toe-to-toe with the aforementioned influencer even at its best.
Rising Dusk is available on Steam for your regional pricing.
As a sizeable homage to not only Donkey Kong Country but games of old, one could assume the story of Rising Dusk is of little importance. One would be correct. That doesn't stop it from prividing little winks and such as the journey progresses, fortunately. The game begins like an impulse buy: a little girl decides to follow a spirit. While praying at a gravesite (or shrine; not entirely sure which) with her guardian, a little girl eyes a spirit that looks very similar to her to her right. Intrigued, she goes off in pursuit of it, only to end up finding a lot more than just a single doppelganger.
What constitutes as a "story" here comes in the form of many different legends and myths of Eastern culture. The player will encounter a number of different "Yokai," such as a red oni, skeletons in a ghostly ship, and kappa, on their trek to… wherever the road takes them. There's very little correlation as to why these all show up in the grand scheme, but it can be implied that there's always the lingering plot of revenge. Really, the entire plot of the game can be summarized as "A little girl follows a spirit and inadvertently gets mixed up in a lot of spooky stuff." There's no real sight of an endgoal and the girl's kind of just going because she can, out of sheer curiosity. At least, that's what I feel the game properly presents. Descriptions for the game outside of it claims the girl is trapped in the land of the Yokai, but I really see no indication that that's the case.
That aside, the true motivation for continuing in a narrative sense is simply to see what one can uncover in this foreign world. There is even a level that serves as a little hub world where the player can speak with guest characters (including Gaijin Goombah, randomly) and collect quest items from certain stages to appease them. While not much more than this, it's the thought that counts, and giving the world a sort of gathering point was a really interesting way to sort of bring it all together.
Rising Dusk is a pretty simple game. Players have a wide selection of buttons to choose from such as the directional pads to move, the jump/accept button, and the menu/escape button. That's it. Unlike its prime influencer, it doesn't leave a lot of variety to the act of simply playing the game. One can move and jump, and occasionally push things in each level. No speed-up option, no attack buttons, no special moves or anything of the sort. It doesn't complicate things and never asks the player to do anything but reach the end of a level by ordinary means. Due to this, I can't help but wonder if this may end up boring those looking for a more complex algorithm of controls and player freedom, as moving and jumping is one step prior than the gameplay mechanics of Super Mario Bros.
Where the game makes itself tremendously fun, and the true meat of this game, is in the levels and variety of challenges attributed to this jump and run gameplay, mostly comprised of the anti-coin-collecting shtick. Simple in theory, but the level of creativity in implementing twenty-plus levels of different ways of progressing and unlocking secret goals/areas (as there are aplenty in this game) is surprisingly addictive. Coins are placed all throughout each level, sometimes necessary and sometimes a detriment to completing a stage, it all depends on what type of stage it is. Sometimes more coins can lead to special golden cat figurines needed to unlock bonus material, while going through a level without collecting one will also reward the curious soul. It adds oodles of replayability to levels and are typically harder to achieve than if one was just trying to reach the end goal.
Each stage has to be accessed from a hub world, where a player can manually control the character and explore the hub world for all sorts of secrets and added goodies. What shocked me while playing this is that the player, so long as they go out of their way to unlock secret areas, are free to go about the stages as they see fit. One can progress in a linear fashion or they can veer off in a different direction and go open up other parts of the world. As I've found them, there are four bosses in this game total. After completing the first few stages, I unlocked enough material to face one boss in one direction, then go back and complete a stage in a different direction and face a second boss in a completely diferent field. It all doesn't amount to too much as there isn't actually much to explore outside of stages and a few patches of hidden areas (at least nowhere near as many as DKC), it was pretty liberating to complete the levels in whatever order I chose. This also adds a lot of replayability specifically for speedruns, as I think certain paths could get one to the end area faster than others.
Much like games of the past, the controls here can be a little finnicky. There are some precise jumps necessary to progress in some stages that are a real hassle to pin down sometimes because of clunky landings. One level in particular has the player roam slowly to the right on the head of a giant shadow-y figure, and trying to land precisely on an area of the head that's safe, as there's no indication other than basic common sense as to where is and isn't safe with a round head, led to some garbage deaths. This isn't so much of a problem that I would dock it points, but it's definitely something to watch for with potential players.
I cannot stress enough how wonderfully varied this game is with each stage's challenge. One can be wrestling with their own shadow, escaping insta-kill Yokai, traversing a tower with a needlessly complex building layout, or playing the same stage twice only in different directions. What the final product provides is a great collection of things to look forward to with each level, and I can't recall a single time where I was bored playing this game. I only wish there was a little more, however. I beat this game in roughly four and a half hours, with an extra ninety minutes dedicated to collecting as many special items as possible. At six hours, it's well worth the asking price, but feels a little short for what such a game promises with its decent-sized hub world. Let it be known that this would better serve as a solid night out rather than a relaxing vacation.
Graphics & Audio
It isn't as unique as Donkey Kong Country (I promise that's the last comparison), but the artistic direction for Rising Dusk is fairly good in terms of detail and dedication. While I wouldn't praise its pixelwork as much as I would for, say, Deadfall Tropics, there's definitely a distinct style—proclaimed by the developer as "16-bit meets Studio Ghibli"—that I think works for what it's going for: a fun, harmless adventure. Enemy designs are easy enough to distinguish what each enemy does or threatens to do, though as I mentioned somewhat before, there are times when I'm unsure of what precisely is a safe spot to land on and what isn't. There is some trial and error when it comes to getting used to the enironment of each level, though not anything to harp on it about. I think the best example of the artwork comes with the area where all the guest characters and such gather as one progresses through the game. Seeing those that were seen previously all in a safe environment with no endgoal is a really cool wink to the audience.
And in a rare twist (at least through my experience reviewing games), the soundtrack to Rising Dusk is close to great. Likely my favorite soundtrack of any game I've reviewed for this site thus far, there's a great emphasis on methodical tracks that build upon themselves into a complete spectacle of emotion. Half-ambiance, half-smooth beats, there's a wonderful variety to the mood of each stage that not only creates the world within a stage, but also envelops the player with the motivation to listen to it outside it. Handy then that this game provides an area where one can listen to stage tracks one can unlock by collecting tape decks hidden in various levels. While not every track is a lesson in grade-A gaming composition, it's a consistently good listen no matter what level one's playing, and some levels just have that great "it" factor to their track.
Like a grand story of old, Rising Dusk is a game that evokes the same emotional output as those with which it drew inspiration from. Despite any similarities, there's an undeniable charm to the entire presentation and execution of its simple, but worthwhile tagline of anti-collection. What it manages to accomplish with such limited material is a testament to the developer's appreciation for challenge and charisma, both of which are well apparent here. Wonderfully varied and deceptively difficult to fully complete, gamers of old should take solace in Rising Dusk, even if the game isn't a work of perfection.
|+ Does a lot with a little||– Hub world/game in its entirety could have included more to do|
|+ Great optimization of its gimmick and homages||– Controls can be finnicky|
|+ Very good soundtrack|
|+ Most levels are great fun|