Why do we love video games? Some say for the story, others the art. A few people might say music and then yet another might say setting. Most, I think, would say it comes from the interaction. The fundamental difference between video games and some other medium is gameplay. This virtual interaction intoxicates us, as somehow hitting a series of buttons can lead to infinite possibilities. We like gameplay because it simulates challenge, a series of walls we will smash in to over and over again for no real reason. Challenge is what made ‘Video Games’ the thriving industry we see today. Pong, for example, was a 1-on-1 grudge match pitting two players against each other. The person sitting across from you was the challenge. There was really nothing like beating family and friends in a video game. The little dopamine release we each got signified the coming of a new era. It’s that same little release that brought a new form of media so far forward in so little time, and it’s the same thing that makes Towerfall so good.
To start with some background, Towerfall: Ascension has come out before. Developer Matt Thorson (@MattThroson) made a 6 month console exclusivity deal with the android based system Ouya. Those who owned the console immediately realized the potential this game had, and gameing press everywhere started praising it. Unfortunately, there were not very many Ouya owners, and even those who did were satisfied with the games free demo. At a loss for sales, Matt decided to bring the game to more popular platforms in the form of Towerfall: Ascension. The revamped version offers more characters, modes, maps and gameplay tweaks than the original, and more importantly is available on both PS4 and PC.
As I mentioned earlier, what makes Towerfall great is the pure, mechanical bliss players get when they perfectly execute a move. The gameplay revolves around 2-4 archers shooting at each other in many different arenas and in many different ways. One shot from an arrow or one bounce on the head will kill you. The game features a multitude of variants, which can cause just about anything. Want players to start with the maximum amount of arrows or only 1? Maybe even none? Those are options. Should the arrows be normal, bombs, or lasers? Should characters come back as ghosts or have giant heads? All these and so many more can be set for over thousands of unique combinations, almost all of which change the gameplay in a fun, unique manner. Speaking of gameplay, I haven’t even fully explained it yet. Players use only three buttons and an analog stick to control the entire game. Jumping is handled with X/A depending on your controller of choice, but the bottom button either way. The jumping is precisely measured for grabbing ledges and bouncing off walls, facilitating the games sense of speed instead of hindering it. Square/X shoots an arrow, or as it usually goes for me 5 button presses means 5 arrows. The arrow’s physics may be what ‘makes’ Towerfall, if any aspect does. Arrows will gradually tilt toward enemies, whether that means upward or downward, like sharp little heat-seeking missiles. This makes for some great moments, as arrows will come up to meet jumping players and fall on unsuspecting foes from many stories higher. The third and arguably most interesting mechanic comes from pressing any of the four available bumpers, although I found R1/RB the most convenient. These bumpers all make your archer dash in a direction. A single dash is perhaps the most versatile maneuver in Towerfall. Dashes can be used to catch arrows, if someone shoots an arrow at you and in response you dash into it, the arrow is picked up and added to our own stash. Is a ledge just out of reach? A well timed dash can put the platform within your reach, acting like a double jump. Beyond these controls, movement and aiming arrows is done with the left stick. That’s it. Utilizing these easy-to-start quick-to-master controls means that Towerfall can quickly become the life of a party, whether participants are ‘gamers’ or not.
Towerfall offers plenty of distraction in the art and music departments as well. The practically lush 8-bit graphics pop, illustrating characters well from the equally detailed backdrops. Small details, normally forgotten in these more simplistic games, are ever present. Vines creeping in a woodland stage, tiny cracks in stone faces and rubble from a bomb arrow showcase the effort put into what appears simple on the surface. Music fits stages well, ranging from intense to peaceful depending on the particular stages color pallet. While some songs are just solid background tunes, a handful stand out enough to make some stages better than others. One of the deciding factors between PS4 and PC lies in the Dualshock 4’s features. The controllers light bar shines the color of your archer, and the speakers project 8-bit sound effects for each archer. The additions are minor, but adds a bit of an edge to the home console edition. The package of visuals and audio are both great individually, but in conjunction make a seamless front for a more unified experience.
The game is notably different in structure as well. A new quest mode is available along with a revamped trial section for when single player content is needed. The quest mode pushes waves of AI creatures at 1 or 2 players while they try to survive on each map. The mode is defined by the developers choice to include monsters, instead of archers, in the quests. The mindless minions are dangerous, always walking a path with attacks that will kill in a single blow. There are some archers and more powerful monsters who at first seem unfairly difficult within the quest mode, that with time and practice become just another monster. For those looking for a different type of challenge. the trial mode puts a single archer in a level filled with dummies and challenges players to shoot them all within a time limit. These become more about figuring out a route than execution, but some of the more difficult stages require hundreds of tries even with a perfect route. Playing a level in 2.54 seconds really demonstrates how tight the controls are. While the single player content may not knock anyone’s socks off, it does provide an interesting distraction while teaching new players the ropes.
What Towerfall boils down to is the best moment to moment co-op experience in years. When a game starts the events that follow can be so intense, tragic and exhilarating all at once that nothing can really match it. The fluid and exact gameplay combines to make first timers look like heroes and experienced players fools. The variants manage to keep the game fresh for hours, and interesting for weeks. Unlocking new archers and stages provides the perfect carrot on a stick for this type of game, and with a valid single player mode the game is well worth 15 dollars. If you have a PC or a PS4, consider this a must buy. It is worth noting a couple downsides before the final score however. If you are looking for a game to play online then this is not it. As wonderful as an online Towerfall sounds, any latency would ruin the experience. Along those same lines the game loses a bit without friends to play it with. However, with such a robust feature set, along with some of the best moment to moment action in years, Towerfall: Ascension is getting a 10/10 from SimplyBaseline.
Thanks for reading, and if you have any thoughts on Towerfall leave them in the comments or tweet me @CometIndy- Ethan H.