Rising Star Games represents a special type of publisher for me, the kind I both admire and can’t fully process. Like products of Suda-51’s Grasshopper Manufacture, Rising Star pushes games like cult-classic Deadly Premonition: unpredictable and bizarre titles that don’t make sense even when they try to explain themselves. TRI: Of Friendship and Madness achieves similar goals: it’s a surreal, innovative puzzler that’s somehow exceptionally peaceful while making you want to tear your hair out. And even though I can’t really find anything but good things to say about TRI, I also can’t seem to attach to it like I wish I could. Also like Deadly Premonition, there’s plenty of great material in TRI, but it’s only going to appeal to select consumers.
Hands down, TRI’s biggest asset is its atmosphere. The music, the soundtrack, the narrative, the feeling of depth and wonder comes from a combination of landscapes that feel simultaneously zany and haunting. Exploring the world of the Odd Gods, you harness the power of the TRI to create triangle-shaped platforms in mid-air and search for three hidden fox statues in each level. This is no simple platform-puzzler, though; eventually you’ll use your triangles to walk up walls and bounce rays of light from one place to another. Even though some of the puzzles are downright frustrating, they’re usually attainable with a bit of creativity and experimentation. And if searching for the three fox statues isn’t enough for you, there are multiple idols to find that unlock making-of content and behind-the-scenes footage. TRI’s world is plenty big for players, even if it’s not assembled perfectly.
The first of TRI’s two shortcomings is its technical hiccups. They’re not prevalent enough to call the game “buggy,” but small glitches tear the feeling of continuity out of the game world. Sometimes walking on a wall via triangles simply results in plummeting, or a chain of triangles that were supposed to connect simply won’t. In certain locations triangles can’t be made in one spot, while making a second triangle with a point a few pixels away will work. The game doesn’t require any particular speed unless you’re trying to rank on the leaderboards, so the technical missteps are generally forgivable, but they are noticeable.
TRI’s second shortcoming may be a matter of personal preference: I don’t much care for the story. Again, like other Rising Star-published games, it’s eccentric to say the least: you learn of two spirits who were friends, but had a falling out. The narrator, a monk who appears as you quest through the world of the Odd Gods, also has a habit of telling you that he remembers of another person who looked to obtain the power of the TRI as you are, but he can’t quite put his finger on what happened to that person…yes, it’s mysterious, but for me it wasn’t compelling. Obtaining the three fox idols in each level doesn’t feel connected to unwrapping the historical narrative or pushing the present timeline forward. This means that the story, interesting as it may be, just ends up feeling tacked on instead of tied in to the game’s progress. Unless you really love the feeling of solving TRI’s puzzles, you’re not likely to see the end of TRI’s story.
Those things said, TRI: Of Friendship and Madness is still a fun, unique puzzler with plenty of character. Fans of the Portal franchise may find themselves having a great time with this game, as the first-person puzzler rarely gets a world that feels this encompassing. And, if you’re willing to venture just a little bit in to madness, you just might find a new favorite game to call your friend.