On December 31st 2020, Adobe Flash offically died, taking with it a huge catalogue of ancient in-browser games. The sheer volume of animations, websites, comics, and other Flash-based media that disappeared that day is impossible to overstate. While there are countless titles I could have written this memorial article about, for some reason I decided to eulogize the worst quadrology of flash games ever made.
Back in the early 2000s my brother and I regularly duoed escape-the-room games as it was a particularly good genre for paired-play. Every time one of you solved a puzzle/found another inventory item, they could alert the other and you both progress. After suffering through the (at the time) three Arise games, we quickly developed several in-jokes regarding its particularly-awful gameplay conventions. Any time a future flash game included a lazy JPG jumpscare or a pointless key puzzle, it became an “Arise moment.”
As the series is no longer playable, this Let’s Play is the only way to experience the truly baffling design decisions put into these ‘horror’ games. The first game starts off explaining that the player character was warned not to take a shortcut through the woods… And whether they did or not is never explained, as the game starts in a locked room with no forest in sight. The puzzles are exclusively “use <inventory item> on <thing> to get <another inventory item>,” and the lion’s share of those items are just keys. There are two journals, one explaining that someone trapped you in the shack in order to “test” you, the other recounting a group of flu victims who died in the shack years prior. (Neither ever come back in the series.) The only ‘scary’ element is spooky faces that flash on screen for a split-second, in the laziest jump scares imaginable. Not much to say about this one, the author was clearly learning the ropes and didn’t do anything beyond the bare minimum to complete a game.
To Arise 2‘s credit, it starts with a cutscene showing exactly how the player arrived from Arise 1. (After escaping the shack, we found ourselves surrounded by evil red eyes and escaped into the sewers.) The sewer setting is clearly more ambitious than the shack setting from before; containing more than one room and a larger color scheme than grey and brown. Unfortunately the gameplay did not advance in any meaningful way. Almost every puzzle is still inventory-based; in one memorable moment, you use a key to open a drawer and recieve another key! And finally, JPGs of Halloween masks are still the only scare the author can think of. The single gameplay advancement is a Bioshock-esque pipe puzzle. The last shot is our character escaping the sewer (somehow, through the same manhole we entered?) to arrive in a bloodstained laboratory.
Arise 3 is the developer’s first attempt to mix up the gameplay, and they did so in the worst possible way: a time limit. Your character is apparently infected with a ‘letal’ virus, and has only ten minutes to beat the whole game. Just in time for this limitation, the devs added a ton of pixel hunts and several mini-games that force you to do the same thing for an agonizingly long time. You’re going to die a lot, forcing you to speedrun everything you’d figured out and keep playing. Though I must admit, gameplaywise, the things you do are at least more creative than just inventory puzzles, and this would have probably have been my favorite Arise game if it weren’t for the time limit. Because the fourth one gets so, so much worse.
The final game of the series, Arise 4 took everything wrong with the first three and made them look like masterpieces. (It also threw out the storyline, I have no clue how it ties into the original trilogy.) The biggest innovation (and worst mechanic) is the combat. Randomly, floating heads will appear and float slowly towards you, you need to shoot all of them with the worst gun ever coded. It has incredibly slow input delay, a crosshair that’s only correct if you aren’t moving, and no mouse boundaries, meaning you easily click out of the playable space and then you can’t fight back. If you miss a single floating head, you die and have to reload the entire game.
But what if you couldn’t reload? You see, Arise 4 is the only game I didn’t play with my brother. It came out years later, the night I’d flown to Great Britain for a study-abroad period. While playing it, the internet suddenly died at my hotel. I called the receptionist (while still shooting these neverending heads) and she confirmed it wouldn’t be fixed till morning. So if I died in-game, that’s the end of it.
I played for hours; the playable space is a hedge maze, impossible to tell sections apart from each other. The puzzles were nonsensical “just use things randomly until something works.” And there were tons of items hidden behind invisible pixel-hunts. Plus those goddamn one-hit-kill faces kept appearing throughout the whole game. Eventually I booted up my Gen 1 Amazon Kindle and suffered through following a text walkthrough on its klunky screen.
The final boss was a giant floating head you had to kill forty-eight times, which should have been hard except I had a PhD in the terrible combat system by that point. Never gonna have another gaming experience like finally beating Arise 4 and closing the computer down for the night.
Despite how awful they were, the Arise quadrology will always fill a special place in my heart. In a way they typified the amateur development cycle, the ‘anything-goes’ philosophy behind that entire era of flash games. You’re missing nothing by not being able to play them, but they’re worth at least witnessing in Let’s Play form. If you’re actually gonna go through the effort to make Flash games work in 2022, there are far better series to put your effort into, like Submachine. (Or just wait for them to finish porting the series to Steam!)