Format: PS4 (reviewed) | PC
Developer: Matt Thorson
Publisher: Matt Makes Games Inc.
TowerFall Ascension is all about traditional local multiplayer. So much so, there’s no point even reading the rest of this review if you’re not likely to invite friends round to your house to play with you. Still here? Did I mention it would help if your friends were regular gamers with a fondness for pixelated sprite-art games that could have run on a Sega Master System without breaking a sweat? Try not to make too much noise on your way out. Ok you two, thanks for staying.
This multiplayer-focussed game features screen-sized arenas to duke it out against each other in 2-4 player deathmatches / team deathmatches or you can play 1-2 player co-op against waves of monsters over multiple maps.
Controls are simple retro fare with three buttons handling jumps, firing arrows from your bow and a dodge move that can also be used to catch any arrows fired at you. Navigating the 2D stages with well-timed jumps is a breeze and you can make your way around with serious speed thanks to a hole at the bottom of the screen dropping you back in from the top when you dive in. Exit to the sides will see you come out the other side too. Arrows fired into any of these exits or holes will also come out the other side.
A friend and I tried into the co-op quest mode first to practice our skills before turning on each other in the Versus options. Together we were tasked with clearing multiple enemy waves in each stage. Firing the arrows isn’t immediately easy to pick up, as aiming seems very awkward. There’s a lack of finesse as you can only aim in eight locked directions. Arrows dip over distance too, making longer shots more difficult, although it feels swell watching a shot ark over a platform to nail a monster on the other side. Arrows are severely limited and misses feel devastating. Arrows can be recovered if you pluck them from a corpse or the wall/platform that you shanked it into like a hayfever-riddled Robin Hood.
For a large amount of the game though, I found myself relying more on jumping on the heads of enemies to take them out. This was especially fun when diving into the hole at the bottom of the screen to come out the top one and land on peskier enemies like the mini grim reapers who are all too keen to scythe me down or block arrows. This tactic met with a few problems though when I’d inexplicably slide off some of them and lose a precious life when attacked immediately afterwards.
The dodge button also acts like a guard, as you can’t be hurt while using the dash-style move, but when enemies invade in larger numbers you’ll all too often dash straight into danger or fall off the narrow platforms. To make things even harder, you can accidentally take out your partner with any friendly fire arrows or explosions. You’ll find each of you trying to stick to one side of the screen to clear up any monsters. It’s all a bit too serious to be honest and people I played it with admitted they were a bit bored.
If you stick with the quest mode you’ll find a bit more variety with new weapons like bomb arrows and shields, but the difficulty spike is almost vertical after the initial stage and when the lights go out for some stages it becomes a test of patience to not hurl your expensive DualShock 4 across the room.
Versus mode is where the game’s heart really lies and if you can get four controllers in the same room it’s a fun blast whether played in traditional deathmatch mode or teaming up for 2vs2. Variants can be tweaked to alter the rules. For example, you can adjust available Powerups or inflict death if you try to fire your bow with no arrows left in your quiver.
The awkward aiming is of course still there and the game becomes quite defence-orientated as you try to catch an opponent’s arrow more often than you get time to line up a shot. You’re going to need at least three players going at it to really get things going as two-player matches lack pace. Make things messy and the game livens up a little.
£11.99 is a lot to ask for such a limited multiplayer experience and the lack of any online options is a major letdown. You’d be much more likely to find people to play with online as I had a hard time of convincing my more casual gaming buddies to stick with this niche title. It was an even harder task knowing that I wasn’t much of a fan of it either.
- Quest mode is challenging from the start
- Fun in multiplayer with the right friends
- Tight arenas are well designed
- No online multiplayer
- Paper-thin depth
- Did we really buy PS4s to play 8-bit games?
The Short Version: The absence of online multiplayer makes this already niche title a hard sell to anyone that doesn’t have a bunch of hardcore gamer buddies dropping by often. The quest mode isn’t fun when attempted alone either.