An imposing Tower. A sleeping damsel. A knight on a quest.
You know the fairy tale. You know how it ends. But what if it doesn’t end the way you think? What if that story goes rather differently, just at its culmination, and just before the “happily ever after” credits roll?
Aspire: Ina’s Tale, from Wondernaut Studio, answers this question, beginning just where the fairy tale ends with a story of its own – an ending that is significantly different from the fulfillment of the knight’s quest. This is what happens when the damsel awakens to no one with only a dream to see her through. This is the damsel’s story.
After an indeterminate amount of time, Ina wakes up in the ruins of a Tower to find herself alone amidst the broken glass, torn metal, and shattered masonry that once made up this magnificent structure. She has no idea how long she has been here or even how she was freed from her glass prison. All she knows for certain is that she wants to escape the Tower and return home.
Across a series of fantastical, albeit damaged, environments, Ina will have to platform and puzzle her way to freedom in this 2D side-scrolling narrative adventure.
Ina is no action hero, so her physical abilities are limited to running and jumping, carrying, pulling and pushing objects, or swinging on ropes. To her credit, she can take quite a fall! Luckily, Ina has the ability to control various forms of energy, which is how you’ll manipulate most of the platforming puzzles around you. The three different types of energy you use in the puzzle-solving sections are introduced throughout the adventure, culminating in a final stretch of puzzling that will require you to use them all to progress.
Ina’s Tale splits its time between narrative beats and puzzle-solving with light platforming. The puzzle-solving makes up the bulk of the games physical activities that Ina will have to deal with. The puzzles, however, aren’t too difficult to solve and are simply used to get you through the environment. The (slight) challenge they present comes in the form of timing. Ina herself is rather slow, which means precise timing is required when you have to use elements on timed platforms, or push objects between moving hazards. Death and recapture can occur, but they’re limited to areas in which hazards appear. If you do die, a short loading screen will see you back at one of the games many checkpoints to try again. That said, although these sections become more prevalent as you progress, they’re still rather easy.
Aspire: Ina’s Tale, much like thatgamecompany’s classic Journey, is about, well, the journey and the characters you meet along the way. The game doesn’t hold your hand on or provide clear narrative answers though. Many of the questions you may have – such as why Ina was held asleep in the Tower, how long she has been here, or what the Tower is exactly – are either left for you to infer through vague hints or not answered at all. Instead, the game focuses on Ina’s growth as a character, along with the realisation that she is no longer content waiting to be saved, that only you can save yourself, and that there are costs to following your own path and dreams.
It’s a testament to the strong storytelling and writing that these impressions and ideas come through in what is, all things considered, an incredibly short game. You may not spend a lot of time with the characters you encounter, but it’s a testament to the developer’s skill that, when the game does end, it leaves you wanting more. To see more of these characters, to delve further into the world that waits beyond the Tower, and to see where Ina goes from here. If there’s any criticism of Aspire: Ina’s Tale that I could leverage at it, it would be that with its brief running time, it feels more like a prologue that ends just as it’s beginning.
Visually, Ina’s Tale is a beautiful piece of stylised 2D art. As an environment, The Tower, even in its ruined state, is gorgeous to look at and hint at what a massive structure this once was. Coupled with the game’s fantastic soundtrack and sound effects, the atmosphere is one of a dreamlike, melancholic fable.
Aspire: Ina’s Tale may not have the longest running time, but it is a memorable fairy tale experience that will leave you pondering and wanting more, long after the credits roll.
Aspire: Ina’s Tale (Switch) ReviewAspire: Ina’s Tale (Switch) Review
Story8/10 Very Good
- Great writing and characters
- Gorgeous 2D art
- A short runtime that leaves you wanting more