March 12, 2014 10:50 AM | John Polson
Matt Thorson's OUYA exclusive hit has come home to PC and PS4, upgraded as TowerFall Ascension, and with it comes debates about multiplayer games lacking online functionality. Some will consider TowerFall Ascension's lack of online multiplayer a missed opportunity, while others will go further to say they refuse to purchase it. I played TowerFall Ascension as a single player and still recommend it, even without enjoying it as it was meant to be played, on a device it wasn't designed for.
While playing the PS4 version via the PS Vita may not in itself be taboo, I feel like I am going against the grain to say I'm playing and enjoying the game as a single player. Yet, I think there is a large amount of players who are in my position.
Fortunately, I don't have to enjoy the intense cross-bow shooting, wrapped-screen traversing TowerFall Ascension in the way everyone has praised it. For whatever reason, Matt Thorson released a new version of TowerFall on PlayStation 4 and Windows with a new mode and some new levels for the Trials mode. These Quest and Trials modes can be played solo, and because my couch co-op spouse didn't find the game interesting to play, I was left to explore it alone. Having an option to toggle friendly fire would have been nice.
The basic gameplay involves clearing waves of enemies by shooting and retrieving the few arrows given, opening chests for powerups such as flight and a barrier, and dodging (used also as an air dash) to avoid attacks and grab enemy arrows midair. Each Quest area (laid out in the map below) has at least two difficulty variations, with around 5-8 waves of enemies to defeat and even some boss moments tossed in.
I became immediately absorbed in the Quest, which tested my twitchy action-platforming skills. Almost every moment the Quest mode had me on edge, as enemies with varying attacks would appear randomly and would die only from a daring stomp or from a careful but autocorrected arrow.
Shot vertically, and the arrow could come back down to kill me. Some enemies exploded on impact, and others made it near impossible for my first shot to count. Landing a target sometimes caused the arrow to wedge in the wall.
With very limited arrows, I had to often traverse the level to retrieve them, which became a balance of watching where I was going and what my cunning enemies were doing. I was surprised at how smart even the simplest looking enemies (the blobs) were, all determined to hunt me down and kill me however they could.
When viewed on the right screen, the enemies looked sharp and moved fluidly. Thanks to carefully constructed animation by Miniboss, I felt each leap and each arrow. Accompanying these visuals is an epic, motivating soundtrack by Alec Holowka, sampled in the trailer above.
For as much as I felt rewarded playing the Quest mode, the Trials mode requires intense skill to achieve its highest satisfactions. I felt undertained, and I started noting the random tips on how to play, which are given during each Game Over screen. After some digging, I found the tips were collected in the Archives section, too. The elusive medals are possible, and here's proof.
A couple hours in, I grew to dislike playing it on my large-screen Sony Bravia and Sony PS4. The controls were tight on the DualShock 4, but the pixels looked a bit off, possibly not suitable for Sony's large 5-year-old, 1080p TV. More so, playing TowerFall on a large screen was just too demanding for my eyes, I think, sort of akin to my experience with shmups.
I couldn't watch all four sides of the screen easily to know when an enemy or attack was going to use the screen wrapping. Some of what makes TowerFall intensely addicting became frustrating because my eyes weren't able to process it.
In an epiphany, I thought of shrinking it down by trying it on the PS Vita through Remote Play, and it dramatically improved my experience. The LED screen presented the characters and backgrounds crisply, and I could monitor all the action much more comfortably. The 4:3 screen size and side banners seemed less noticeable, and it felt great to hold the tiny characters so close to me. Playing TowerFall Ascension on a smaller PC monitor should yield similarly positive results.
The developers bill the game as something other than what I could play it as: "a 4-player local party game centering around hilarious, intense versus matches" that is "best played competitively with friends, cross-legged on the floor within punching distance of each other." While a lot of single player content was added, Ascension also boasts 50 additional Versus arenas, for a total of 120 unique maps, and "plenty of hidden secrets and surprises to discover with your friends," suggesting that the game requires fleshy allies to unlock a bit of its content.
If you're fortunate enough to be around someone who wants to play -- and given the game's critical praise even from its Ouya days, that shouldn't be too hard to come by -- you'll be able to experience all that is TowerFall Ascension.
My single player account of Ascension wasn't meant to discredit it or any game's local multiplayer. I love seeing groups of people enjoy a game together. Bennett Foddy makes a strong argument for why we should appreciate these types of games, too. Yes, he's co-creating a local multiplayer only game (Sportsfriends), but that doesn't negate his points.
However, if you are neither a fan of nor able to take advantage of the local multiplayer aspect, I want to say that a fun, challenging, and replayable game also awaits you, and you alone. I braved the arcades alone, enjoying classics such as Joust and Bubble Bobble because the core gameplay was just damn good. That's TowerFall, too. Grab it for Playstation 4 or Steam for Windows for $14.99 (discounted 15% off its first week).