There are some game journeys that are completely literal, leaving you with the need to get from one world to the next. You might get diverted for a bit, with extra chapters added to the adventure, but for the most part, it’s a quest from A to B. There are other types of games though which are more cerebral, or even at times metaphysical where the protagonist’s experiences change fundamentally who they are and how they act in the future. Aspire: Ina’s Tale is a game that combines both of these storytelling elements in an interesting way.
But mainly this game is a platforming puzzle adventure that is intriguing, frustrating, yet full of moments of pure beauty. What could be wrong with that…
In Aspire: Ina’s Tale, you play as Ina across a 2D platform adventure. You have been trapped like a sleeping beauty, set in a permanent deep sleep, situated in a tower for an age. Suddenly she is woken, but can’t remember why she got here or what was the reason behind her sleep. So off she goes through the tower to search for answers – and to find a way out. Along the way, she discovers secrets of this strange world, meets other characters and monsters, and also discovers she has more powers than she first realised.
The narrative and world-building of Aspire are very good and well thought through. The way the characters behave and how Ina collects fragments of the story through the predicament makes her a useful cipher for us, the audience. I could have maybe had a bit more story delivered and a bit less of the puzzle solving, but that’s solely a personal matter. It probably says more about my tastes and lazy nature.
A 2D side scrolling platformer at its heart, you move through the levels with ease; jumping first of all and climbing up through the levels. You can’t run faster though, and so if you ever happen upon an enemy the best course of action is to get away if you can. There is also some old-fashioned rope swinging to be had and, as mentioned, a lot of puzzle-solving. You also get the ability to collect light from standing stones and it’s with this light which you can use to keep dark creatures at bay; stopping them from attacking you. It can also be used to open doors and power up robot buddies who will follow, and in turn will open unseen pathways. There are portable battery chargers dotted around that can also use the light as a sort of battery relay.
The puzzle-solving is interesting but it does require a lot of toing and froing, along with plenty of trial and error. It also can get tricky at times and sometimes the momentum of the story and game gets lost as you find yourself stuck, trying to work out what to do. You see, this is a game which doesn’t give you clues of what to do next, and whilst that can be admired, occasionally a bit of help is appreciated. There is a lot of moving blocks around and triggering pathways with objects. The light ability is good at times though, but at other moments it frustrates. I’ve also got slight issues with how the main character movement is handled; it feels slow and not as accurate as perhaps it should be.
Aspire: Ina’s Tale is however one gorgeous and stylish looking 2D platformer. It has such a fine sense of place, mystery, and magic about it that you’ll be blown away by the world. The colours on offer are great too, from the pink of a blossom tree to depth of the strange creatures that prowl around. There is a moment – as Ina passes by some large crystals on her journey – and for a moment the image of her is magnified in the crystal mirrors as she goes across. It’s that attention to detail that makes things special.
The audio work is of a high standard as well, with some great effects throughout that help build that sense of place and wonder. The best moments come about through the soundtrack too; it is atmospheric, haunting, and brilliantly made.
Over the five hours or so of running time, Aspire: Ina’s Tale will deliver some mixed feelings. The world-building, the scenes of identity and magic it manifests while travelling through the world are all to be loved, as is the main character of Ina and the creatures/characters she meets along the way. Some of the platforming and puzzle-solving is also decent but the movement of Ina becomes a bit frustrating at times, especially in terms of gameplay accuracy. At other times, it feels too slow – especially when you’re left trying to escape in certain sections.
Overall though, Aspire: Ina’s Tale is a pretty good experience, one that many should find themselves taking in.
Aspire: Ina’s Tale is available on the Xbox Store