In 2013, the highly anticipated TowerFall hit the Ouya platform -- and so began the thousands of voices clamoring for a port to any other platform. As of late last year creator Matt Thorson reported that he had only sold around 5,000 copies of the game on Ouya, due in part to the Ouya's low install base and even lower propensity to actually buy anything on it.
Now it's 2014, and the Ouya exclusivity deal has expired. It's time to see what TowerFall can really do with the souped-up re-release on PC and PS4, appropriately called TowerFall Ascension. If the preview build I've been playing is any indication, it's going to be one of the strongest games of the year.
TowerFall Ascension (PC [previewed], PS4)
Developer: Matt Makes Games
Released: TBA 2014
You may have played the Ouya version so I won't spend too much time on Versus, the core game mode. At its heart TowerFall is a brawler similar to the Super Smash Bros. series, pitting four players against each other in funhouse-like arenas with power-ups and hazards galore. At the start of each match, every player only has three arrows. It's a simple premise, but the mechanics go much farther from that launching point.
In addition to the ability to wall jump, players can dash at will, which not only allows them to gain ground, but also grab arrows out of the air. At first I thought it was a fairly cool concept, but then I discovered the air dash, and from there it became really cool. Matches become extremely hectic with people who know what they're doing, as arrows are bound by the laws of physics and have an arc -- so you can't aim them like a speeding bullet or any other videogame projectile. Arrows can also be retrieved from walls or corpses, and picked up by jumping on people's heads.
It adds a strategic element to the proceedings, and mixed with the vertical elements of many stages, matches can turn from one-sided affairs to close calls nearly every time. It's very similar in nature to Samurai Gunn, but unlike that game there are no melee attacks, and everything is a lot crazier due to its arcade-like nature. To use a Smash Bros. analogy, if Samurai Gunn is "no items, Final Destination only," TowerFall is "all items set at a very high frequency on Pokemon Stadium."
But Ascension is more than just a straight port to the PC and PS4 platforms. It's a new version of the game with extra content, including updated weapons, maps, characters, a "trial" gametype and the addition of the two player co-op Quest Mode. Before I talk a bit about the new campaign I'd like to take a second to praise the "trial" mode in particular, which I didn't expect. Think of it like a "break the targets" mode from the Nintendo 64 iteration of Smash Bros. -- it just has creepy straw dummies instead of actual targets.
At first I thought it was a simple challenge mode, but each stage is actually built around teaching you a new concept, usually by way of a weapon or item. It's a genius design, because it's not only a score attack gametype for hardcore players, but a tutorial as well. It's also playable solo, which makes Ascension much more enticing for those of you who don't have local friends (Ascension will not support online play).
Quest Mode is the main draw however, which can be played by one or two players and mixes things up with a Bubble Bobble-style campaign. Each set of stages consists of multiple "waves" with different AI opponents, who range from formidable blade-wielding grim reapers to simple cave bats. Although it sounds simplistic in nature it's a ton of fun with another partner, because you'll need to work together to best some of the harder waves. It's also fairly rewarding to grab a teammate's errant arrow while in the thick of combat, and having two players dash around trying to avoid and destroy every enemy on the screen is thrilling, to say the least.
TowerFall Ascension sports an enormous amount of extra content in comparison to its original incarnation, even including a few old-school-style secrets and collectibles in tow. Out of all of the arena type games I've played in recent years, I'd put this near the top of the pile, considering how much there is to do in terms of solo content. It's only a matter of time until the real deal releases, and we can see how brightly the definitive version of TowerFall shines.