Published on April 9th, 2014 | by Michael Ormonde0
REVIEW: Towerfall Ascension
It wasn’t too long ago that the only way to game with your friends was to get everyone together in the same room, plugging in a multitap and your spare controllers you never used (of course remembering to give your nemesis the controller with the broken face button and analog stick that caused him to drift right of its own accord). With the advent of online play, gaming with your buddies has no doubt become easier, but has arguably lost some of its magic. Towerfall Ascension is one of an ever growing list of games aiming to recapture that magic.
The very definition of simplicity, Towerfall Ascension usitises a basic 3 button control scheme outside of basic movement. Your archer can jump, fire arrows, dodge incoming arrows, and not much else. Yet this simplicity hides a certain amount of nuance and mastery required to play to the top of your ability. Each round has your chosen combatant start out with a quiver of three arrows. Once these are expended, you’ll need to replenish your stock by collecting your own previously fired arrows, or those of your enemies, from around the arena. The aforementioned dodge also comes in handy here – time it just right and you can pluck arrows out of the sky, ready to be shot back at your assailant. That’s not to say you’re completely toothless if you’ve no arrows to shoot. Towerfall also allows for players to head stomp, Super Mario style, to vanquish your foes.
Towerfall Ascension consists of 3 distinct game modes. Trials mode allows you to practise your skills against a set number of challenges, each taxing a particular skill or your ability with the game’s different types of arrows. Each trial has a target time, with a ludicrously short 3 seconds being the top target of many of these challenges. It’s simple and provides a nice way to get used to the game’s mechanics. The second of these modes is new to the Playstation 4 version of the game. Quest mode pits you (and a friend if you have one handy) against 11 different stages. Each stage consists of numerous waves of enemies that need to be defeated. Enemies range from simple blobs and flying creatures right the way up to other archers. You’ve only got a set number of lives within each stage before it’s game over, and there’s no checkpoint between waves so if you perish on the final wave, it’s right back to the first wave of the stage. Quest mode is challenging to say the least, and often borders on the frustrating as you progress through a wave only to see your advance halted by the onslaught of enemies time after time.
However, both Quest and Trial modes simply serve as the hors d’oeuvres to the main course that is the game’s versus mode. It’s here that you can, and most likely should, spend the majority of your time (with one very big caveat that I’ll return to in a moment). Supporting between two and four players, Versus mode offers three different flavours of standard battles – Headhunters (every man for him or herself with each kill counting towards victory points), Team Deathmatch (same idea but with teams) and Last Man Standing (only the round’s lone survivor scores victory points). The same skills transfer across from the co-op modes, so expect to be dodging and head stomping with impunity.
The strength of the multiplayer on offer here is in the customisation options afforded to players. If a certain element of matches isn’t to your liking, chances are it can be switched off. Almost every option imaginable can be tweaked, from your starting ammunition, to special abilities and even whether dispatched enemies return to the fray as ghosts intent on revenge. What’s better, if you’ve found your perfect combination of rules, you can save it for later reuse.
Describing exactly what makes Towerfall Ascension click is something that’s difficult to quantify, but the old adage about capturing lightning in a bottle definitely rings through here. The game’s inherent ability to create both moments of elation and despair in equal amounts is as much about the social aspect as anything technical. Sniping your buddy from across the stage as his focus is on a third party, lining up that perfect shot only for the thunk of an empty quiver to derail your best laid plans, pulling off that impossible shot under the most extreme pressure – each instantly memorable and yet effortlessly overshadowed by another a few minutes later. This will definitely be a game that comes out when a few friends and some beverages are in the same room.
Now back to that caveat. Towerfall Ascension only supports local multiplayer; there is no online offering at all. While this is understandable – the game was developed by a small team on a limited budget, and it’s arguable that much of the magic would be lost across the ether of the internet – it still limits the enjoyment, and mileage that you can get out of the title. If you’re able to consistently get a group of people together, the title’s longevity is increased tenfold.
Aesthetically, the game travels down the same “retro” pixel art style that many indie titles favour. It’s full of neat little touches, such as your archer remaining impaled on the wall if that’s how they died, and the lighting effects and stage transitions are very well executed, but on bigger televisions it can definitely suffer from a lack of clarity. If the art is decidedly retro, the game’s soundtrack is the complete opposite – the electro orchestral score serves to complement the unfolding action brilliantly.
It’s unfortunate I’ve to assign a single score to sum up Towerfall Ascension, as it would recieve a different score depending on the availability of your gaming circle. On its own, the slightly limited quest mode and trials offerings aren’t able to capture the pure magic and excitement of a room full of friends, all jostling and mocking each other’s bone headed plays. If that sounds like your group, then Towerfall Ascension is the best investment you’ll make.
Summary: Alone, Towerfall Ascension is a fun arena battle title. With 3 friends, it becomes infinitely more fun and captures the magic that made games like Goldeneye the classics they are