Gather some buddies, crack open a few drinks, and get ready for a night of slinging arrows and insults back and forth for hours on end—Towerfall Ascension is here and ready to take over your lives as the ultimate multiplayer arena fighter. Is the revamped version of an indie classic an absolute bullseye, or does it just barely miss the mark?
For the longest time (and probably even still now), the original Towerfall stood far and above as perhaps the best exclusive on the struggling Ouya. The game pits two to four players against each other in arena combat, armed only with arrows. One hit means death, but fortunately, players have an arsenal of tricks to stave off death as long as possible.
Using Smash Bros. style dodging, arrows can be caught in mid-air and a variety of items and power-ups can be collected to shift the odds: bombs, thorn growing brambles, shields, and wings offer added mobility and help to mix up the game. These items as well as other modifiers and obstacles can even be turned on and off to make custom mode sets.
Towerfall starts with a simple core gameplay, but offers a surprising amount of depth, moreso than most games of this type. This gives it much more of a shelf life due to all the crazy different ways there are to play a round. Plus, if you happen to stumble upon a mix of modifiers that becomes a crowd favorite, they can be saved as presets, making for an easy way to switch on and off what will invariably become the house rules.
The original Towerfall was amazing, and the new port to PC and PS4, Towerfall Ascension, manages to pack in even more content, making it a worthwhile purchase for even those who already own the original on Ouya. In addition to 50 new arenas, 4 new characters, and a variety of new arrow types, two new modes also round out the package, giving both co-op fans and single players more to do with the package.
First up is the “Quest” mode, which effectively pits one or two players against waves of enemies, one after another. The mix of enemies are quite varied, ranging from explosive bats to mimic archers. While the AI of the enemies can be rather predictable, each type needs to be taken down in a different way, providing a fantastic opportunity for practice and mastery of Towerfall’s skillsets.
Additionally, there is a “Trial” mode as well, that allows players to hunt down and destroy stationary dummies in a timed circuit. Think the “Break the Targets” mini-game in Smash Bros., basically. The target timed goals for these stages get pretty tight requiring both inventive thinking and lightning reflexes. Only one player can play this mode, though, so it provides a suitable distraction when friends aren’t around.
Towerfall Ascension sports the same retro styled, pixelated look of the original, but before you hear the words “retro” and “pixelated”, don’t run off into the streets fearing another low-fi artstyle in yet another indie game. Sprites and backgrounds are meticulously detailed with tons of tiny details and lush vibrant colors.
The game absolutely oozes polish, with solid graphics, quick menus that are a breeze to navigate, and dynamic music that actually evolves as the stage changes. Music gets muted when darkness begins to fall or slows to haunting pace when time altering items are activated. This all adds up to one organic product that immediately feels good the second you pick up the controller.
Many players may appreciate all the care that went into Towerfall Ascension’s release, but may lament the lack of any sort of online infrastructure. There is no online multiplayer or even leaderboards for the Quest and Trial modes. While many may see this as a downfall of the game, I see it as something that adds strength to its value.
Playing Towerfall itself is definitely a skill, and mastery comes from playing the game and getting a feel for it and how others play it. With dozens of stages and arrow types, there’s not much of a singular optimal strategy at play here, an element that would certainly become dominant in an online environment as a means of survival. In addition, there are a TON of secrets throughout the game. Like, legitimate secrets. If you think you’re going to unlock all the characters and stages simply by playing the game straight through, guess again. It’s going to take some real Matlockery to find all the secrets tucked away in Towerfall Ascension.
And of course, as is the argument with all multiplayer games, Towerfall is simply just best played with your buddies on the same couch, simple as that. Between the game’s twitch “didn’t-see-that-coming” gameplay and the hilariously reflective instant replays at the end of every match, Towerfall Ascension absolutely thrives from being shared with friends, old and new.
I’m not gonna tell you to “get some friends” if you don’t have the friends to invite over to play Towerfall Ascension, but players can purchase it without fear of having nothing to do or a shallow one-time-use single player experience. Quest and Trial mode give Towerfall literal hours of gameplay that can be enjoyed alone, especially once the hunt for all the secrets begin.
Of all the PVP arena games to have come out in the past year or so, Towerfall stood out as probably the cream of the crop, and Towerfall Ascension not only brings that experience to a wider audience, but actually manages to improve immensely on an already fantastic experience. The first time I ever played Towerfall was when a friend shared it with me and others in his hotel room at a gaming convention. And now that I have my own copy of the game, I can’t wait to share it with my friends as well. Buy this game and share it with your friends too—Towerfall Ascension is one of the first multiplayer must-buy games of 2014.
[+Easy to pick up and play][+Robust multiplayer features][+Plenty to do if you’re playing alone][+Awesome sound and graphics][+Tons of secrets to keep players searching for clues][-Requires friends to get the most out of it, and honestly, who has friends these days?][-Can be a little hard to see smaller graphics at times]