One of the best memories a gamer has usually involves some sort of couch and a bundle of friends. If you're an older gamer like myself, these memories usually involve the NES or the SNES, a multi-tap adapter and games like Bomberman, Double Dragon or Street Fighter 2. Slightly younger games may remember times playing GoldenEye 64 and Super Smash Bros. deep into the wee hours of the morning.
In recent years, however, the multiplayer couch experience has all but disintegrated. Online gaming has by and large replaced couch multiplayer, with many games these days even omitting split-screen gameplay entirely. In a blast from the past, developer Matt Makes Games invites us to relive our youth with one of the best couch-based multiplayer games ever made: TowerFall Ascension on the PlayStation 4.
If you're the sort of gamer who can recall all night game-a-thons with Goldeneye 64 or Halo, this game was made for you. It's competitive, fast-paced and and overall amazing experience.
An All Night Event
At the core of TowerFall Ascension is the multiplayer experience, an experience playable with up to four gamers on one PlayStation 4 console. The premise of TowerFall Ascension is simple: shoot the other players with arrows before they shoot you, with the game taking place in a variety of enclosed arenas. Each player starts with only three arrows, so every shot must count; however, you can collect spent arrows from the environment or catch arrows that your opponent shoots at you. You have a variety of moves at your disposal, including a slide, wall jump and dodge, making each battle an agile affair with archers bouncing all over the arena. The downside of shooting an arrow is that you must remain still as you shoot it, putting you at a disadvantage. Games in TowerFall Ascension are the ultimate culmination of risk and reward, a perfect balance of speed and accuracy.
However, much like GoldenEye 64, TowerFall Ascension is all about the details, the many, many game modes and the amount of tweaks available to said modes. If variety is the spice of life, TowerFall Ascension has enough spice for 50 lifetimes.
TowerFall Ascension contains 8 playable archers (four of which you must unlock) and over 130 stages. Each level contains its own specific power-ups, such as Drill Arrows, Bomb Arrows, and Wings, with each power-up changing the gameplay ever so slightly. Each stage also contains its own unique hazards, such as ice, crushing platforms, pits of lava and spikes. The experience in TowerFall Ascension changes from game to game, level to level, just like the classic multiplayer games of the past.
If that's not enough variety, over 50 variants can be enabled to change how the game is played. For example, you can start each archer off with just one arrow, a full set of arrows, set up Big Head Mode, give each archer a protective shield, or spawn monsters during a match. Games can be tweaked into any number of specific combinations so you can play the game exactly how you want to play, not how the developer wants you to play. However, that's not the best part of the game.
What TowerFall Ascension does best is the number of “in your face!” moments that it provides. Dodging into an opponent's arrow and firing it right back into his face to get the game winning shot? That will surely illicit cheers and jeers from all involved. Just barely missing the game winning shot only to get crushed by a platform and lose? That's a definite “in your face” moment. Minutes turn to hours is you'll want just one more game to avenge your most recent loss.
The saying “It takes a minute to learn but a lifetime to master” is one of the best ways to describe TowerFall Ascension. Non-gamers I introduced the game to got used to the controls in just a few minutes, developing their own skills and moves the more they played. TowerFall Ascension may look like a game designed with gamers in mind but any player will quickly pick up its controls and enjoy everything the game has to offer.
Pixel Art with Style
We know what you're thinking: “Pixel art styled graphics, again?” For TowerFall Ascension, the choice of graphics actually make sense for two reasons. One, the retro throwback art style is a great choice for a game that is itself a retro throwback in many ways and two, the graphics need to keep up with the fast pace of the game and using this style of graphics keeps the gameplay fast.
Even though the game uses a familiar art style, it uses it in a highly detailed way that makes it seem fresh. Each character and monster is brimming with 8-bit personality with special touches such as near-miss arrows knocking the hood or hat off your character.
The art is detailed and evokes nostalgic feelings while being able to provide the level of detail you'd expect on a game made in this decade. As great as the graphics are, however, the sound design goes one step further.
Excellent Sound and Music Seal the Deal
Musician Alec Holowka knocks it out of the park with the music in TowerFall Ascension, providing memorable tunes easily on par with the classic tunes of the NES and SNES eras. Words can't describe the quality of the music so just take a listen for yourself:
The sound effects are on-point (pun intended) and each arrow, explosion and death sound great. You can tell that care was taken to make every aspect of the game stand out, which is one of the telltale signs of a great game. Each aspect of the game was handled with care and thought; nothing was glossed over in the creation of TowerFall Ascension.
A Local Multiplayer Only Affair
TowerFall Ascension contains only a handful of modes: local multiplayer and a few single player modes. That's right: The game contains no online modes at all. While you may be thinking this sort of game would be perfect online, developer Matt Makes Games has stated that because the game is so frame intensive, even the smallest bit of lag could potentially ruin the game. Once you've played the game, you'll see how this makes sense. It's commendable that the game is unwavering in its dedication to quality that it would rather lose a few purchases then deliver a sub-standard product. Take note, Electronic Arts.
The single player modes are good but serve mostly as filler for the multiplayer action. Single player is served in two flavors: Trials and Quest. In Trials mode, your goal is to shoot static targets on a variety of game maps in the quickest time possible. In Quest mode, you'll fight wave after wave of monsters either alone or with a friend. Trials mode is take it or leave it, but Quest mode is a lot of fun and we'd love to see Matt Makes Games expand on this mode somehow. While Quest mode contains both Normal and Hardcore modes for each map, there is the possibility for something greater here.
Giving further proof that the game is multiplayer only first, the last stages in Trials and Quest mode, along with all the unlockable archers, are unlocked through multiplayer gaming. Stages are unlocked by specific requirements in the multiplayer modes and, once unlocked, are then available in Trials and Quest mode. Don't have a second controller? You won't even be able to finish Quest mode since it's impossible to unlock the stages any other way.
If you're buying this game, make sure you have two DualShock 4's at the very least but definitely make sure you have a friend or two who is willing to play. Think of the single player modes is a nice bonus to the main attraction, which is the multiplayer action.
The PlayStation 4 Advantage
TowerFall Ascension is easily the best looking version of the game available on any home console, as mentioned above, but that's not the only PlayStation 4 feature the game uses: It also takes advantage of the PlayStation 4 by smartly manipulating the DualShock 4 in a few ways.
The DualShock 4's lightbar represents your chosen character by changing color; for example, playing as the primarily yellow Turncloak Soldier will cause your lightbar to shine a bright yellow. It's a small addition but it lets you see at a glance who is playing who. In addition, the DualShock 4's speaker is used for a few sound effects, such as your character's death.
Neither feature changes the gameplay but it's nice to see developers attempt to incorporate the unique features of the PlayStation 4 into their ports. It makes them feel a bit more special.
The Final Verdict
If you have a group of friends you can rustle up for a night of hanging out on the couch and playing TowerFall Ascension, the game is absolutely worth a purchase: It's some of the best in-person multiplayer you will ever experience.
If you're playing alone or have no friends close by, well, the game just isn't going to be for you and it's probably a good idea that you don't purchase it. Single player in TowerFall Ascension is just something you do to practice until your friends meet back up for more multiplayer, not the main attraction.
Not all games have to appeal to all gamers, and it's great we have a system that supports so many niche genres of gaming only a few months after launch. Would online gaming be great in TowerFall, or even the inclusion of bots? Absolutely, but then you're losing the point of the game: making amazing gaming memories with friends in the same room.
For that, you can't get any better than TowerFall Ascension.
Final Score: 9/10
November 2014 Update
It's been revealed that an expansion to Towerfall is in the works for 2015, titled Dark World. This expansion adds new playable archers, four levels, more power-ups, and more levels. For many, Towerfall is one of the best local co-op games that already features a lot of content, so this is like the cherry on top of the cake.
A copy of TowerFall Ascension was provided to PS4 Experts by Matt Makes Games for review purposes.
Article by - Joshua Phillips