The PlayStation 4 has become a gateway into the console market for indies all around the world. These small development studios create games with budgets that could be considered laughable by any of the big AAA studios in the game industry. Despite the smaller budget, some of these companies have gone on to achieve the highest level of overall critical acclaim amongst what is currently out on PS4. This is stacked up against great games like InFAMOUS: Second Son, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, and Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag. So how do these small indie studios do it? One word—Originality.
Yes, I must admit, when I got to do the review for TowerFall Ascension I was both excited and apprehensive. I have reviewed indie games in the past and have walked away impressed by the concept, but not the complete picture. So how does TowerFall fare? Does small indie studio Matt Makes Games have what it takes to steal our attention?
The concept of TowerFall Ascension is very simple—three arrows, and lots of competitive fun with friends. There are three different modes of play in the game: Versus (2-4 players), Quest (1-2 players), and Trials(1 player). Each of these modes is centered around competition, and gives plenty of variety to all the different types of gamers out there.
If you are the type of gamer who prefers to duke it out directly and rule the ring with an iron fist, then Versus is for you. In Versus you are pitted against up to three friends in a battle to see who is the last one standing. At the start of the match you are given three arrows, and chests are spawned randomly around the map that can contain different types of arrows, protective shield, and wings. The combat in Versus is fast paced and if you want to be the king of the ring it requires some serious mastery of the arena layout to take the crown.
Quest is interesting because it caters to two different types of audiences, on one hand it is a co-op mode that stacks you against waves of enemies teamed up with a friend, but on the other hand it is a highly competitive battle to claim the highest score. You can get an incredible amount of satisfaction and gameplay out of Quest. The wide variety of enemy types, sheer numbers, and small supply of 5 extra life gems add a fair amount of difficulty, and having that team mate (while not being essential) is incredibly useful against the coming hordes.
Trial has you compete against the clock to take out a set amount of targets in the shortest period of time possible, so if you enjoy competing with friends on a leaderboard this is the mode for you. Every Trial presents its own set of challenges that you must surpass with very little time to spare. In terms of difficulty, Trial is incredibly punishing at times and if you find yourself determined to win you might be spending quite a long period of time replaying certain Trials over and over again.
All of TowerFall Ascension’s modes host a fair amount of replay value. It all depends on how competitive of a person you are, but one thing that stands in the way of TowerFall having endless hours of gameplay is the lack of Online support. Versus and Trial in particular, would have benefited greatly from online support. Online leaderboards for Trial mode would have been a real game changer, but without them Trial lacks any real sense of replay value. The average gamer will most likely just complete the challenges and never revisit Trial mode. The ability to play Versus with friends is great and by no means should that be dropped, but having the ability to play with people online would have made this particular component of the game much more accessible. Hopefully in the future online support will be added.
In terms of gameplay, TowerFall does everything it should do and a bit more. Having the ability to dodge quickly in the direction of your choosing by tapping L2 or R2 gives a new level of mobility to 16-bit combat that has never been seen before. High mobility is important in all the gameplay modes that make up TowerFall. You always start with only three arrows, so it is important to make those shots count and if you don’t, make sure you’re fast at picking those arrows back up. If you are unable to reclaim your ammo then your only option is to jump on the head of your opponent, and this is when knowing the arena layout is incredibly helpful. A big part of what makes TowerFall’s gameplay challenging and addicting are the portals around the top, bottom, and sides of the arena that give you and your opponents the ability to fire and traverse in ways that can be difficult to describe and keep track of. TowerFall is a game of keeping an eye on your surroundings and if you lose focus for a second it’s game over.
On the visual side, TowerFall Ascension is quite charming. Its 16-bit visuals are a throw back to what many gamers today consider the golden age of the gaming industry. The variety in level design is impressive and because of it, every level feels new and nothing feels like it has been rehashed. The attention to detail is staggering given the overarching visual simplicity. Small details like matching the DualShock 4’s light bar color to your characters life gem color make the TowerFall experience shine and help you feel more immersed in the game.
The sound effects and music in TowerFall Ascension do a fantastic job of completing the retro gaming experience by taking great inspiration from games past. Dominating your friends in 16-bit combat has never sounded better due to the satisfyingly silly death noises that come from DualShock 4’s speaker. Matt Makes Games did a fantastic job of avoiding using all the unique resources available on the PS4 in a non-gimmicky way and instead finding a way to elevate the overall gaming experience.
TowerFall Ascension is a great example of how far originality can carry a game that is so simple to instant classic status. There are things that could be done to drastically improve the overall package, but the sum of its parts are overwhelmingly enjoyable. Matt doesn’t just make games, Matt makes great games.