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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Review: TowerFall Ascension (PlayStation 4)

Review by Nick H. 

TowerFall Ascension is a title that feels right at home next to Mario Kart, Tiny Brains or any other kind of party game. The idea is simple, but the execution is almost flawless. You and some friends are dropped into one of more than a hundred different castles as you battle it out against one another or a limited set of AI opponents.

How do you fight? It's as simple as leaping around like a madman and firing arrows at one another.

To start on a personal note; I do not lean toward multiplayer games. One of my favourite recollections about World of Warcraft is that I was able to get five of my characters to level 80 (back when that was the cap) without ever grouping with anyone else. With that being said, who doesn't like a good local multiplayer game? In college it was Mario Kart 64, GoldenEye 007 and Madden. Once I had kids I had a tendency to lean toward games like Mario Party, shooters and... more Mario Kart.

The reason I reference those games is because TowerFall successfully emulates what a lot of those titles got right over the years. The learning curve is minuscule. You can pick up a controller and feel comfortable playing in a couple of minutes. My son and I both fired it up and played it for the first time together, and after a couple of minutes of learning the controls we were happily firing arrows at one another.

Each player (up to four) plays an archer who can run, jump, wall bounce and more as you take shots at one another and try to rack up the best score. This is the default play mode, and it's easily the best, with has a handful of different options you can tweak your gameplay experience with. There is also a quest mode, which is the only single player mode in the package. In it you battle computer critters in increasingly difficult waves using the same fundamentals. You can have a second player join you for this adventure, and it was certainly more fun with two of us playing than one. As a solo game, TowerFall has very little to offer, frankly. The AI simply drifts toward you in an almost straight line, providing none of the crazy surprises found in multiplayer. At least with a second person along for the ride, there's some human companionship to break up the monotony of the AI.

The competitive multiplayer is where TowerFall hangs its hat, make no mistake. It starts off simply enough, with bouncing off of walls and firing of arrows coming pretty naturally. There are some layers of depth initially tucked away that reveal themselves through continued play, however. You start with only three arrows, but you can pick up your misfires along the way. Or better yet, you can pick up your opponents' misfires as well to give yourself a big quiver and a significant advantage. Even when you run out of arrows, you have options. Jumping on your opponent's head delivers a Super Mario style knockout and if you hit the dash button while an arrow hits you in the air, you can nab it for yourself instead of dying.

Then there's some neat environmental effects to take into account. One of the funniest moments was when my daughter touched a reddish orb that suddenly made fire erupt from walls to try and cook both my son and I. Neither of us knew what was happening, but my daughter cackled in delight as I wound up extra crispy as a result of her good fortune.

The presentation is going to annoy some people. I found it charming, with catchy music and a simple but easy to identify set of visuals. That being said, this is not taxing the hardware on the PlayStation 4 by any stretch of the imagination and the retro appearance is not going to impress a lot of people. I can appreciate the colourful characters and that I never struggled to identify anyone or anything on the screen.

If there is a major missed opportunity with TowerFall, it is the lack of online play. Some sort of a scoring system or leaderboard would have helped, even if the gameplay itself wouldn't have translated so well to an online experience.

I cannot help but feel that Game Arts achieved exactly what it was hoping to here. It wanted to create a vibrant, colourful game that was more about fostering a sense of competition between friends than dealing with completely strangers who call each other names, have questionable Internet connections, try to scam leaderboards using shady methods and all of the other vices that come with the convenience of online play today.

TowerFall harkens back to the day when you could play a game like GoldenEye 007, when the person next to you got punched in the shoulder for besting you. This is a game with plenty of laughing and pointing at the screen. TowerFall is not deep in options or features, but the frentic gameplay makes for a surprisingly fun time with your friends and family.

- Nick H.
US Editor
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Review: TowerFall Ascension (PlayStation 4)
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