When I first fired up Savant Ascent via Steam, I was immediately both impressed and disappointed; the game grabbed me right away, with its unique camera control and frantic pace, but I soon felt like it was too frantic for me and that I’d never be any good at it. Since I was determined to give it a full review, though, I stuck with it, and I’m glad I did. After getting over the hurdle of the remarkably sharp learning curve, I found myself really enjoying the rapid-pace action and pressure of keeping up with the ever-increasing torrent of enemies.
The deceptive thing about Savant Ascent, I think, is the remarkably bare-bones controls and relatively simplistic gameplay presentation. You’re centered in the middle of the screen, with two placement options that you can swap between with quick hops or rolling dodges. Aside from that, there’s no real movement to speak of, especially in the game’s opening frame, and the rest of what’s going on is controlled by the mouse, which guides our hero’s steady, rapid-fire stream of missiles as well as the camera, which can reach pretty far in any direction. Enemies stream in from all sides, most of them pretty simple, quickly-dispatched things; there’s some variety there, but the key point to the difficulty is in sheer number and keeping up with the increasing numbers coming in from all directions.
I really can’t stress enough how crazy the pace of this game ends up being, especially during the ‘ascent’ phase as our masked magician climbs his tower atop a pair of steampunk-designed elevators. Hopping quickly between the two of these, and keeping track of the elevation difference between them, becomes the key to survival – made all the more important by Savant‘s unforgiving three-hit death, with no means of healing provided at any point along the way outside of progression to the next ‘stage’. The game plays out through three acts; the opening area at the tower’s base, the rapid upward climb, and the final confrontation against a boss at the pinnacle. It’s never clearly defined, but I believe that progression is based on total score and the collection of blue “CD fragments” left behind by certain enemies.
One of the game’s strongest suits is its soundtrack, which is expanded by collecting golden CD fragments; finding four of these not only opens up another musical option, but adds to your arsenal by increasing your power, adding a charge bar built by defeating enemies as well as adding helpful incoming-enemy detection that offers some assistance in locating incoming waves that are approaching from off-screen. Audio cues also help you know when it’s important to dodge or leap from your current position to the other, giving you necessary insight to survival and success. The weakest point, for me, is split between the bare-bones story told through short, wordless cut scenes and the complete lack of pause function – in fact, when I tried to pause the action with the standard escape key press, I learned that this translates instead to a quit action, restarting the action from the base of the tower.
As a bottom line, the fact that Savant Ascent asks for a meager $1.99 on Steam, combined with the fun, frenetic gameplay backed by solid graphics and music, I’d say this one’s a clear win that’s worth the asking price. The lack of any real learning curve or explanation of certain elements can be a bit daunting going in, but I think the game delivers pretty well on what it’s advertising, and it’s one I’ll revisit from time to time when I just want some good old arcade-style action, though I really think it’s something that could benefit from a “survival”-style game mode of unending, elevator-zipping action to test your skills; currently, the game offers only the single “story mode” option.
[+Fun, fast-paced play] [+Interesting visual appeal] [+Great supporting soundtrack] [+Easily worth the low price] [-Unforgiving and sometimes frustrating] [-Shorter than expected]