Aspire: Ina’s Tale
Aspire: Ina’s Tale is about a young woman placed in perpetual slumber inside a tower. However, she is not an ordinary woman, and her prison is not a typical tower. The game opens as the tower is attacked, and Ina wakes up from her dreams. She immediately sets out to escape from the tower, but along the way, learns more about its strange denizens as well as herself.
In Aspire, players take control of Ina and lead her on a side-scrolling adventure through the beautiful levels of the tower. It soon becomes clear that Ina, who appears to have been a priestess of some sort before ending up in the tower, can control spirits. Fortunately for her, the tower is home to three different types of spirits. The spirit of energy can power machines and repel darkness, the spirit of movement can set platforms in motion, and the spirit of magnitude can increase the size of special blocks. The bulk of the game consists of Ina traversing platforms to find these spirits and then use their abilities to solve puzzles.
While there’s plenty of platforming to be done, Ina won’t be battling many enemies, at least not in the traditional manner. An early section of the tower is home to a menacing beast that chases Ina, and the only way she can fend it off is through the spirit of energy. Her abilities also come in handy during the final act of the game, where she has to face a powerful enemy. As with the beast, the “battle” relies more on Ina’s abilities and how capable players are of solving puzzles or navigating platforms while under time pressure. Although these sections are the most intense parts of the game, the rest of Ina’s adventure is actually quite tranquil. The game employs a very generous checkpoint system, which means players never have to restart very far from wherever they fail. Apart from the shadow beast and final boss, death’s come chiefly from falling off platforms into water or down chasms.
The platforming sections in Aspire shouldn’t tax fans of the genre too much, but the game also has a generous helping of puzzles. These are pretty intuitive for the most part, but there were also a few that had us scratching our heads for a while before the answer became obvious. The puzzles mainly involve pushing and pulling blocks and imbuing them with the correct spirit. Some puzzles up the ante by being time-based, but once again, most players shouldn’t have too much trouble getting through the game.
Ina’s Tale is not a Metroidvania game, so don’t expect any backtracking or any need for a map. Instead, the frequent gates and checkpoints always make it obvious where Ina should be going next, although it is possible to wander somewhat off to the path to find secret areas. There are only four in the game, but they contain memory stones related to some of the characters Ina meets. During conversations with these characters, Ina also reveals more about her own past, such as the fact that she is referred to as the “Keeper of Kamiura” and was very close to her father. Players can also choose different responses or ask questions during these conversations, but the game maintains an aura of mystery throughout, so don’t expect any straight answers.
Visually Aspire: Ina’s Tale is beautiful and immediately reminded us of games like Gris. Ina has a very distinctive design for her character, and the various tower dwellers she meets are just as unique. The tower is also divided into very distinct areas, so one moment Ina might be running through a dark factory while the next, she’s in a beautiful and vibrant garden. Most levels feature shafts of light piercing the darkness or effects like leaves and petals blowing in the wind. Lots of fore and background details also enhance the striking look of the game, and although it is a 2D adventure, the camera sometimes zooms in or out depending on what is happening. Since the game doesn’t feature any HUD, the whole screen is dedicated to the visual splendor.
The soundtrack for Aspire is another highlight, and the music includes everything from pianos to chimes and even some chanting. Each area has its own tune, ranging from calm and contemplative to joyful or eerie. The game doesn’t have a ton of sound effects, but the included ones sound great and definitely enhance the experience. Unfortunately, aspire doesn’t have any voice acting for the small cast of characters, but this does not detract from the experience.
The controls, while serviceable, do feel a bit sluggish at times, and jumping, in particular, can feel somewhat stiff. In addition to jumping, Ina can swing from ropes or chains and hang from ledges. The latter is quite handy for situations where Ina might have otherwise missed a jump. The spirits Ina can use are represented by colored shapes swirling around her, and these can be imbued in certain blocks with button taps or extracted from them by holding down the button. It can feel a little finicky, especially when under time pressure, but it works fine for the most part. We also had no trouble moving blocks around and only had one instance where a lever that was supposed to be pulled could not be interacted with, but restarting from a nearby checkpoint resolved the issue.
In total, it took us about three hours to complete Aspire: Ina’s Adventure, although we did return to the game to get a few of the achievements that we missed. While not particularly lengthy, the game doesn’t feel like it was padded out by unnecessary backtracking or grinding, which is refreshing. The story starts very interestingly, but anyone expecting clear-cut answers about what is going on might be a bit disappointed. Nevertheless, we enjoyed our time with the game, and while it doesn’t quite reach the lofty heights of classics such as Gris, we absolutely recommend it for fans of the genre.
- Requires a 64-bit processor and operating system
- OS: Windows 7
- Processor: Intel Core i3
- Memory: 8 GB RAM
- Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M, 2 GB Memory
- DirectX: Version 9.0
- Storage: 4 GB available space
- Requires a 64-bit processor and operating system