Aspire: Ina’s Tale
Developer: Wondernaut Studio
Publisher: Untold Tales
Release Date: 17th December 2021
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC, Xbox One
Reviewed on: PC
Sometimes a game comes along at just the right time. This week I found out my job is up for redundancy, so I’ve been feeling pretty beat to say the least. At times like these, I turn to games as a sort of comfort food for the soul.
I got lucky.
Aspire: Ina’s Tale isn’t the most ground-breaking thing you’ll ever play, but it sparks magic and hope through small moments of quiet wonder.
A rude awakening
Aspire: Ina’s Tale is a side-scrolling puzzle platformer set against the fantastical landscapes of a living, breathing tower. You play as Ina, a girl who awakes from perpetual slumber after being trapped inside The Tower for many years. Along her mystical journey of self-discovery, you must explore the Tower’s inner chambers in search of answers and, most importantly, a way out.
Beginning in the lower chamber, you’ll explore the ruins of the dungeon where giant, rusting machines juxtapose the ornate baroque architecture. The technology that litters the place is peculiar; you’re not sure where it came from or what its purpose is. It reminds me of The Last Guardian in that respect – the way that it creates a sense of mystery through the environment that leaves you wanting to know more.
Gameplay consists of navigating your way around the Tower and solving puzzles to reach the next chamber. Controls are simple to begin with; you can run, jump or push and pull objects to clear your path. There are moments when jumping can feel a little unresponsive; it’s easy to miscalculate and fall to your death but you’ll soon adjust after a little practice.
Spirit in the sky
In each of the distinct areas of the Tower, you harness Ina’s power to absorb spirits and imbue objects with their power. In the dungeon, you can absorb the white Light spirit which triggers door switches and melts away the black gunk blocking your path. Each spirit has only a limited radius though, so the challenge lies in figuring out where each block should sit to trigger every switch. The puzzles aren’t really offering anything new here, but they’re well crafted and offer a satisfying conundrum that will make you pause for thought.
Using a new spirit for the first time can be a wondrous affair. After absorbing the Movement spirit, you’ll load it in to a block in the wall that has a rope dangling from its edge. When you grab onto the rope, it suddenly starts moving along a hidden rail like a zip-line. It feels like an opportunity to take in the scenery, until you notice the impending vines growing along the wall that’ll knock you off in a heartbeat. Rather than hanging loose and enjoying the ride, you’ll need to scramble up and down the rope to dodge between the gaps, all the while an epic chorus of strings build to a crescendo as you reach the peak. As you get off at the top having beaten the odds, a rush of joyful hope washes over you.
Just before you reach the end, there’s a fantastic ‘boss fight’ with the Watcher of the tower, a giant, all-seeing machine made of multiple screens. To defeat it, you must make your way up to the top of numerous platforms and turn off the switch. But here’s the catch – the Watcher rapidly destroys each floor as you scramble to the top. If you’re not quick enough, you’re toast. It’s tense, edge-of-your-seat stuff and is a welcome change in pace from some of the more contemplative puzzles earlier on.
While the last puzzle presents a difficult yet wholly rewarding challenge, the end of the story falls a little flat. While the game muses on love and loss, we ultimately don’t learn too much about Ina. Most of what you glean is from a few of the quirky characters you meet along the way. Here, you’re given several dialogue options to choose from (mostly in the form of questions) but these don’t really have a bearing on the story. Despite this, the dialogue is well-written, with a tinge of humour and sadness that sometimes borders on the profound. By the end, it feels like a few threads are left untied – but that’s okay. As cliche as it may sound, the game is more about the journey than the destination.
A magical, mystery tour
The animation in Aspire: Ina’s Tale is bloody gorgeous. Each scene is painted with a purposeful palette of pastel pinks, purples and teals that make the bold blue of Ina’s dress and the orange of her hair pop against the background. As you move through each scene, shards of metal and intricately sculpted columns scroll in parallax across the foreground, giving a sense of immense depth and scale to the cavernous tower.
Each area of the Tower has it’s own distinct feel; from the rusting machinery languishing in the sands of the dungeon to the lush gardens bursting with greenery. Connecting each area is an ethereal plane of giant crystals that cast beautiful reflections of Ina and dancing particles that refract the golden light.
The score is also outstanding. Soft, understated piano tinkles along in the smaller moments creating a tranquil, reflective mood. When you’re battling the Tower against the odds, classical strings soar to a crescendo, filling you full of hope. It’s this attention to detail that makes for a truly magical experience that you’ll hold on to long after you’ve beaten the game.
Aspire: Ina’s tale is a thoughtful and charming adventure that doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. While the puzzles and platforming aren’t exactly innovative, the game is greater than the sum of its parts. Both pensive and joyous at times, this game will give your soul a little lift, even on the darkest of days.
Disclaimer: A review code was kindly provided by the publisher.