Quick Look – Aspire: Ina’s Tale (#JustOnePercent 105/100)

Developer: Wondernaut Studio
Release Date: December 17, 2021
MSRP: $12.99

If you’ve been following along with the #JustOnePercent project over past 10 months, I’m sure it won’t be a huge surprise that I’m wrapping it up with a game I hadn’t even considered until a couple of days ago. Although I don’t usually go for platforming games, I do like to dabble in non-combat puzzle-platformers from time to time, and I picked up Aspire: Ina’s Tale in a Fanatical build-your-own-bundle back in August. By that point, however, I felt like I’d already gone so far over my goal schedule-wise. Since then, I’ve dropped a handful of games I planned to write about for one reason or another, and I decided to squeeze this one last game in before wrapping up the project.

Aspire: Ina’s Tale is not a very long game – HowLongToBeat lists an average playtime of about two and half hours for the main story, and there’s at least one walkthrough that professes to be the entire game with all achievements completed that clocks in at under two hours. If I continued playing, I expect it would take me at least twice that – my puzzle-platformer skills aren’t very well developed, and during the hour I played I was stumped a handful of times and needed to consult a walkthrough. For people more conversant in the genre, however, the game probably borders on being too easy.

On the upside, it’s absolutely beautiful, with impeccable sound design. You play as Ina, a girl who somehow became the Heart of the Tower, who awakens after a knight breached the Tower. She seems to have no memory of where she is, or why she’s there, or even what it means to be the Heart of the Tower, and she has decided that she wants to return home to her village. In order to do that, she must make her way through the tower’s ruins.

Like most puzzle platformers, this game leans heavily into the puzzling half, and the platforming, at least in the first quarter or so of the game, is really pretty simple. Things react in much the ways you would expect, which is good because you won’t get a whole lot of instruction. Like most platforming titles, it probably plays far smoother with a controller (although the store page lists only “partial controller support”). I found some of the keybinds a bit awkward, but not awkward enough to attempt to change them, but holding down Z to push or carry an object while moving was a bit uncomfortable.

Although there is no actual combat, there are some sections where you will be confronted with an enemy you need to outmaneuver, either by running away to a place where they are unable to follow or by confronting them with something that they cannot stand. In the case of the creepy spider monster you encounter early on, it is unable to go into any sort of illumination, so it can be blocked or pushed back with a light source.

Aspire: Ina’s Tale is far from my perfect game, but I found a lot here to be appreciated. It’s a beautiful, if somewhat melancholy experience in an intriguing setting. I have yet to encounter anything too mechanically difficult to keep me from progressing, and someone more conversant in puzzle platformer logic likely wouldn’t even need a walkthrough. Still, it’s a little pricey for such a short game, but if the aesthetic is appealing, it might be worth an evening if you’re able to pick it up on sale or in a bundle.

SteamDB estimates that Aspire: Ina’s Tale has sold between 3,000 and 8,300 copies on Steam. It’s gotten very positive reviews, with the handful of folks who didn’t care for it citing abstract story telling, lack of variation in its puzzles, and the short length as points against it. It is ranked 1641 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

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