TowerFall: Ascension (PC [reviewed], PS4)
Developer: Matt Thorson
Release Date: March 11, 2014
The main event in TowerFall: Ascension is its local multiplayer versus mode. It is local only, so grab some buddies and snuggle up on the couch, close enough that you could elbow them if you need to. While the lack of online multiplayer is sure to disappoint some players, I would personally prefer to have no online multiplayer at all instead of one that may not even work.
It also helps that local play, and the gameplay by extension, is perfect. It feels like the classic days of the N64, playing GoldenEye or Perfect Dark in someone’s basement, except “screen-looking” isn’t an issue because everyone is on the same screen. This is a game that has the power to turn friends into enemies.
Gameplay matches the “easy to understand, difficult to master” mentality perfectly. Each player begins with three arrows, and arrows can also be picked up from walls and floors, or by physically coming in contact with another player. Players can jump, aim/shoot, and dodge. Dodging will prevent all damage and even intercept arrows, but can be thwarted by another player landing on top of the dodging player.
Dodging, however, has an invisible cooldown to it, so knowing when to dodge is key. Arrows also have a small “homing” property to them, slightly altering their path as they near an opponent. Combined with the general physics of the game, the skill ceiling for TowerFall: Ascension is deceptively high. Powerups also make an appearance with different arrow types like bomb and laser arrows, plus player powerups like wings and shields. It is also possible to customize a match with a handful of variants like removing or increasing the frequency of certain powerups, altering the rules, and even playing with Big Head Mode on.
I know what you’re thinking: Is it worth it if I won’t be playing multiplayer? If you are the type of person who enjoys challenging themselves, then the answer is abso-freaking-lutely. I am the type of person who spent a whole lot of time trying to maximize efficiency in Super Smash Bros. “Smash the Targets” mode, and TowerFall’s “Trials” are essentially the same idea. If you don’t care much for perfecting the timing of a jump-and-shoot arrow, then TowerFall: Ascension will certainly lose some of its luster. Leaderboards could have helped in this regard, which would still allow friends to compete against each other’s times.
Each level in the Trials mode tasks the player with destroying a certain amount of straw dolls as fast as possible. There are par times built in, and every course has something to teach the player. At a glance, these trials will seem impossible with the given completion times, but oh, what’s this? A treasure chest with bomb arrow? Now this makes sense! At this point, it becomes an issue of figuring out the quickest way to use the items and terrain appropriately and showing that par time who is boss! Trial stages have three levels to them, with increased difficulty in each.
In addition to the Trials mode, there is a new Quest mode for Ascension. These levels are wave-based skirmishes against AI enemies. These enemies mostly consist of monsters, with their own behavior patterns that players must recognize and memorize in order to win. There are also AI archers, which really test the skills of the player. There’s also a hardcore version of each level, which ramps up the difficulty significantly. Quest mode is perfect for practicing skills in a semi-real environment since it more closely resembles the Versus mode gameplay. Did I mention that Quest mode can be played cooperatively? Because it can! So if you and a friend are tired of murdering each other, you can join forces and take on the hordes of evil that await in Quest mode.
In terms of aesthetic, the beauty is in the details. The animations are incredibly fluid and truly do steal the show. Each character manages to ooze personality without really having any story to base it off of. Chances are, everyone is going to have a favorite character which will probably be the Blue Archer because she is the best. Her hood falls off after a close call with an arrow! It’s these small ideas that really leave an impression. Each level has its own distinct feeling as well, and the design itself is impeccable. Each different level is more than just a tileset swap, as level hazards will force players to completely change their decision making.
The music, courtesy of Alec Holowka, and sound effects are equally stunning. Level themes are bound to get stuck in your head at one point or another, which is a good thing considering the amount of time that players may spend on certain Trials or Quests. Sound effects after killing enemies are oh so satisfying, and the sound that plays when the player character dies is oh so disappointing.
Do I wish TowerFall: Ascension had a perfectly working online multiplayer? Yes, absolutely. But I’m also happy that it doesn’t have a barely functional online multiplayer. I have a lot of faith in Matt Thorson, largely due to his incredible track record of videogames, and I trust his decision here. If you enjoy beating your own times and perfecting that one jump where you have to angle and shoot twice before you hit the ground, the singleplayer is well worth the price of entry.
TowerFall: Ascension has something for just about everybody. If you’re at all intrinsically motivated, you will find something to love in the deep well of content available here. I've (intentionally) not even mentioned the fact that there are hidden secrets scattered throughout the game for the treasure-seekers out there until now, as if the fact that there are secrets was a secret of its own until just now! If you do have some local friends who can come over and hold a controller, buy this game immediately and invite them over, because TowerFall: Ascension is easily one of the best things you can do on a couch.
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