New playable characters from Celeste round-out a near perfect game
Team battle Smash with items turned on can be just as competitive and skill-reliant as the standard 1-on-1 no random variables matches that are common in the tournament scene. Just imagine a fight between two pairs of evenly matched friends. Their percentages are all past 90% and there’s less than 20 seconds on the clock. The next one to land a decent attack will end it, and all parties are cautious about how close they want to get to the competition, as they consider holding out for sudden death.
Then suddenly a box of Bob-ombs spawns in the center. Everyone makes a mad dash for them, the team that gets to them first quickly tosses them at their opponents, hoping to catch them off guard and win the match. With lightening fast reflexes, the thought-to-be-doomed team reflects the first bomb, causing it to bounce back and explode the would-be victors at the last second.
These kinds of moments happen in Towerfall all the time, even when playing with relative beginners. The game only has three moves; a jump, cocking and firing an arrow, and a dash maneuver that also allows you to catch a fired arrow in mid-air. There are plenty of power ups other modifiers to explore from there, but at its heart, this is a game about using those three moves to outflank, unnerve, and surprise your opponent, and in doing so, maybe yourself as well. The set up for happy accidents, mind games, and surprises is nearly endless, which combined with the intense technical depth, has led Towerfall to become a pillar in its genre, and now its coming to Switch.
First released in 2014, Towerfall could be considered a prequel to Celeste, a game that’s gone on to be one of the great Cinderella stories of 2018, and one of the most critically and commercially successful games on the eShop. Both titles were created by Matt Thorson and his small team of collaborators, and as such, if you’ve played one you’ll be familiar with the feel of the other.
They control almost identically, with major differences being that Madeline (the protag of Celeste) can climb walls (which makes senses, given that she’s a mountain climber) while the crew from Towerfall are all have the ability to fire arrows, which makes sense given that they’re all archers. So if you played Celeste and wished that it had a little more power fantasy action to balance out the platforming tension, then Towerfall is the game for you. You spend a lot of the game jumping and air dashing, but getting to the next platform is less about getting through an obstacle course and more about picking up fallen arrows (as you start each match with a limited number) and positioning yourself for battle.
These battles can come in many forms. There’s the standard 1-4 player versus mode that has been in the game since day one, and also three campaign modes that can be played solo or with friends. I was particularly impressed with the small but smart Dark World campaign that’s got a large beastiary of enemy types, including four multi-stage bosses. This is the kind of co-op experience I want from the next Smash, like The Subspace Emissary, but tighter and faster paced.
The other two modes, Quest and Trials, are a little less robust, but are still worth checking out. Quest is just a horde mode, with more stages total than Dark World, but no bosses. Trials is just a series of target practice stages against dummies that can be either stomped or shot with arrows, but like everything Towerfall, within its simplicity lies incredible potential for depth. I average about 15-30 seconds on my completion time for most of the Trials, but there are people that can beat those same stages in less than 2 seconds. If you choose to put the time in, there is almost no limit to how fast and powerful you can become.
There’s plenty of incentives to get there too. Unlockable characters and stages are everywhere, many of which require the player to criss-cross between campaigns to achieve. Getting to a new stage in Quest will unlock a new stage in trials, which will in turn put you on the path to unlocking a new character, and so forth. Each character plays the same though, including the addition of Madeline and Badeline from Celeste, so their differences are purely cosmetic.
On the other hand, the game is filled with other variables that are anything but just for show. There are bomb arrows, laser arrows, destructible environments, slow-motion power ups, exploding corpses, and all sorts of other upgrades and curveballs. There’s even a big head mode ala Mortal Kombat, which makes it a heck of a lot harder to keep your face out of the path of a passing projectile.
Towerfall doesn’t allow you to manhandle anyone like you can in Smash. You can’t dominate someone else for an entire match with constant rush-downs and lengthy combos, though there is a more simple combo system in place for taking on enemy NPCs. No, Towerfall is less about feeling unstoppable and more about riding the playful edge between joy and pain, knowing that every decision you make could be a matter of life or death. That’s more true than ever in the Switch’s exclusive 6-player mode, which like Smash 4’s 8-player brawls, feature larger battlegrounds to accommodate the expanded competitor count.
If you’ve been waiting for the definitive version of the game, then your wait is over. Time to cock your bow and take aim.
[This preview is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]