It’s incredibly rare that I yell and scream at a videogame. Vocalising distress, anger or joy is something I usually internalise, however, to do so with Towerfall: Ascension was just too difficult. It has been a considerably lengthy period since I’ve enjoyed a local multiplayer game quite as much as my time spent with Towerfall, but this fighting indie title is simply astonishing.
As an incredible creation from Matt Thorson, Towerfall has found new life on the PlayStation 4 having previously being considered the must-have title of the Android microconsole Ouya. In a revised form of Ascension, with more modes, levels and power-ups, it’s a stunning addition to the increasingly impressive library of PS4 indie titles but Towerfall will stand out as one of the best.
Both simple yet infinitely complex, the perfect balance between easy to play yet difficult to master is found, whilst a level playing field is always offered but never skewed. With just a few simple controls – jump, aim/move, shoot and dash – it’s as straight forward to get into the action as the premise suggest: just defeat your opponents.
Take no prisoners
You’re given a couple of arrows at the start of each round which you lose once fired so your ammunition is tight from the get-go. It’s possible to reclaim arrows by simply walking over them, but it instantly highlights one of the game’s many tactical layers. If you fire too hastily then you’re left without a means of attack whilst your foes may well have several arrows left to dispatch you with.
That would leave you defenceless until you gathered an arrow, if possible (it’s likely that someone will try to stockpile the arrows as you play), if it weren’t for the fact that you can eliminate someone by jumping on their head. This means that even if you have no means of long-ranged attack that you can still be the last man standing.
Combine these two attack mechanics with a fast-paced jump and dash combination, exceptional level design that wraps each side (i.e. fall down off the screen and you’ll appear at the top), and a variety of special weapons and you have a recipe for some utterly fantastic multiplayer experiences.
Mobility is key and wall jumping and using the dash akin to a second jump allows you to make split-second saves. You’ll discover little tricks here and there as you play more and more – such as deflecting incoming arrows with another arrow – and before long it’ll feel like you have everything mastered. However, after a few more goes you’ll pick up something else and decide that your old strategies are useless and change your tactics altogether. The only thing is, so is everyone else.
With up to four players in all of the three Versus modes: Last Man Standing, Headhunters and Team Deathmatch, it is the perfect couch game. Each mode offers a slight variation from one-another, with Headhunters rewarding you for each kill being my personal favourite. You can select a variety of round lengths and even customise the starting options if you so wish.
Among said options include the wealth of interesting arrow types that drastically alter gameplay; whether it be Drill arrows that fire through walls, Bomb arrows that create a wide berth of carnage, or Laser arrows that deflect of the walls. Alongside the arrows are shields, wings, invisibility, things to alter the map such as darkness or lava; you can even alter the rules to allow you to come back as a ghost upon death or have your corpse explode.
There’s a wealth of environments and each battle feels different thanks to the variations within the maps – one locale may have a dozen different layouts that are randomly selected.
The accessibility will keep many engaged and the balancing to ensure fairness is so expertly executed it’s remarkable. If you’re losing by a few points then it may start you off with a shield to give you a second change in a match, but it never feels unfair to those in the lead. It helps create a hugely tense and competitive game that makes each and every victory euphoric.
Some alone time
The only downer is that there isn’t, nor will there be, any online multiplayer for those times where you’ve not got a few friends round. Thankfully, there is a Quest mode against furiously (in a good way) difficult AI that sees you fight through several increasingly difficult waves either on your own or with a partner.
It offers a nice distraction from the competitive multiplayer but lacks some of the spark as a result of removing that human competitiveness from battles. That’s not to say it’s not worthy of your time though, far from it. Quest mode is exceptionally enjoyable and is a well-rounded adventure that showcases the game’s gorgeous pixel-sprite art style. Vibrant and bursting with colour are the environments, monsters and characters; whilst the accompanying soundtrack is simply wonderful.
If you do find yourself without any support from a friend though – or fancy a change from Quest – you can test your skills in Towerfall’s Trials mode. A single-player time trial which will require you to hone your skills in order to hit all of the straw dummies as fast as possible. It certainly doesn’t provide the impact of the other modes and was the least interesting, but some will find a great challenge within.
Towerfall: Ascension is a stalwart indie title that is well deserving of a place on your PlayStation 4. The lack of online, regardless of arguable suitability, is the only real smudge on this otherwise immaculate gem. It optimises the ideal “one more go” philosophy but in a multiplayer space that you’ll struggle to put down.
Within seconds a round can kick into life amid a clamour of player commotion before you watch the slow-motion killcam. Whilst you relive your agonising departure, your friend will cherish their incredible victory, before everyone demands “another!” So, go on, just have one more go…