TowerFall Ascension – As We Play

Version Overviewed: 1.00
Format Tested: PS4

Grabbing a joypad and loading up the merry looking TowerFall Ascension is a joy. It certainly rubs shoulders with arcade games yesteryear quite happily.

Without as much as a whimper, it also becomes one of the hardest games I’ve ever played. While I could be easily mistaken in referring to Towerfall’s difficulty – which is ramped up even on the normal settings – what I actually mean is that it is so damned hard to put down.

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I didn’t quite know what to expect from TowerFall Ascension. I knew that it was a single-screen platformer, perhaps rather like Bubble Bobble. However I didn’t know about the four player action, limited ammo and the ferocious tactical fighting approach I would have to take while playing.

Jumping from platform to platform, your character – of which there are a good number to choose from – feels nicely weighted. Some platformers get this so wrong, but it’s clear that TowerFall Ascension is perfect in this regard.

Arrow physics are just fabulous and again feel just right. So much so that if you fire an arrow directly up, it will come back down and kill you if you do not move out-of-the-way.

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While I mention arrows, a personal highlight is the ability to collect arrows that you have dispensed across the screen, therefore replenishing your ammo. This proves to be a master stroke by Matt Makes Games as it forces you to only part with your arsenal when you really think you’ve got a chance of hitting something. If not, then you’ll have to work out your best path to collection. Not only that, but there are different tips to collect and use; bomb arrows are hilarious fun to use and add to the mayhem.

With a little nod to PacMan perhaps, you are able to navigate from the left side of the screen to appear on the right and vice versa. You can also fall through the bottom of the screen and appear at the top. This gives you the ability to pounce on unsuspecting victims and take the tactical advantage. It is clear that TowerFall Ascension is a cheeky little number and likes to make things hard for you, so having this level of dexterity is both useful and fun.

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If playing the story element, you have numerous enemy types to take out in order to finish the stage. There are also multiple stages you need to beat in order to complete the level. It is here where I struggled the most as the difficulty was exponential between each stage. At first, I didn’t enjoy this feeling of losing and repeating so often, but soon I realised that this is how video games once were. I am sure I would have sunk coin after coin into TowerFall Ascension’s slot if it had been around when Video Arcades were really a thing.

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There are a few modes and two levels of difficulty that I’ve noticed so far, Normal and Hardcore. The two basic modes are a Versus mode and a Quest mode, with an additional challenge mode called Trials that sees to it that you attempt to speed-run a level faster than your friends.

Controls are simple, fluid and come naturally, but they play out like some wise-old-man’s statement of the game, Chess. “Easy to pick up, hard to master”. It is all very obvious what you have to do and when you have to do it, but I still found I would fall for the same tricks from an enemy over and over and over, until I realised I needed to change my tactics.

While the controls are not really hard to master, the timing required -in what I would describe as a frantic puzzle platform battling game – is the thing I suffered with the most. Perhaps this is the reason why I ended up restarting the same level continually until I learned the way the enemies moved and reacted to my character.

Graphically, TowerFall Ascension has its grass-roots to thank from the original Matt Makes Games Game on the Ouya, simply called TowerFall.  The thing is, the graphics look great, quirky enough to feel original and simple enough to enable the game to be frantic and exciting without confusion. While TowerFall Ascension is very much at home on the PS4, it could run on anything and everything and it would be nice to see it made available on other systems too.

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One thing I wasn’t too impressed with, though perhaps it was more of a design choice to keep everything centralised for the player; the playable area is limited to a 4:3 area of your screen. I have a wide-screen TV. This makes sense as everything is displayed in this now-natural format. So to have banners on the left and right of the screen seems quite an alien concept and I’m not sure if it is really necessary. I would at least like the option to extend the playable area up to the edges of my screen.

TowerFall Ascension is great fun on your own, but it is possible to team up with three other mates to take on the different stages together. Sharing the levels helps to decrease the difficulty and it is clear that Towerfall is intended as the multiplayer game you put on when all your mates are around for a spot of afternoon entertainment. Towerfall Ascension is happy to be played in short bursts or in long sessions, though I did feel more comfortable with it in no more than twenty minute long attacks.

While TowerFall Ascension is a game for up four people, almost true to its arcade roots; there is no network play. There isn’t even a leaderboard to speak of. So if you want to share your times and spout bragging rights to your friends and the wider world, you’ll have to use the share button on your PS4 controller and send it that way.

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You are given lots of lives to attempt each level with and these have to last you for six separate stages per level. I quickly go through some and then remember I should be more tactical and adjust my play style. As I do that, the difficulty ramps up and I lose; what a simple cycle.

Areas for Development

  • The difficulty can appear very high, even on normal. It would be nice to see this tweaked to make it slightly easier in normal mode.
  • The play area is reduced into a 4:3 size and I’d love to see the play area fill the entire screen or at least have the option to stretch it to fit my TV.
  • Network play would be fantastic to play against your friends and others remotely.
  • Online leaderboards to compare times and with friends
  • Characters don’t seem to have any difference other than colour

Final Analysis

It is lots of fun to play and even better with your friends in the same noisy room. I see little at fault with TowerFall Ascension, but its lack of online support minimises its hold on the gaming time I have if I want to play with friends remotely. This said, it really is a party game and harks back to the days when the Arcades were the place to go with your mates and play until your piggy bank was empty. TowerFall isn’t particularly cheap at £11.99 on both PSN and Steam, but it is wonderfully cheerful and I can only recommend parting with your cash if you are after a frantic local multiplayer experience. It’s hard and the difficulty is a tricky monster to fathom, but one that is worth your time.

Technical Competency – 9/10

Graphic/Sound Quality – 8/10

Network Stability – N/A

Overall – 8/10

(These grades assess our playthrough, taking into consideration how many (if any) bugs were encountered, whether there were any interruptions in gameplay and the product’s final technical state. These scores, coupled with the Final Analysis and Areas for Development, are suggestions for future patches and updates which the developers could (and in our opinion, should) explore. These scores are separate to our DLC/Expansion Reviews but link into our Patch/Firmware Reviews.)

(These scores are not designed as a grading system to determine the entertainment value of a product and should not be treated as such..)

As we play offers the thought strands of the reviewer as they’re going through the game. This offers unique content for the reader so they can come to understand the conflicting feelings of the reviewer as they’re playing a game for the very first time. All feedback on this concept is welcome.