TowerFall: Ascension 89/100
TowerFall: Ascension is deceiving. It appears to be cute, pixelated and friendly, and it looks like something you would have played between rounds of Contra and Super Mario Bros on the NES as a kid.
In reality, TowerFall is a brutal bow-and-arrow brawler with vicious enemies that materialize from the ether in droves, heedless of whether you have backup or the skills to defeat them. You only have a set number of lives, limited ammo, power-ups that disappear the moment you’re hit, and hordes of enemies that demonstrate increasingly complex powers as the levels progress. It’s also local co-op only.
So, yeah – it’s basically the reincarnated amalgamation of classic NES shoot-em-ups and platformers, bred for a more technologically powerful world.
TowerFall’s charm resides in its twists on beloved platformers and shooters: Jump down a hole at the bottom of the map and re-appear at the top, dropping from a gap in the ceiling. Shoot a barrage of arrows and then jump down and collect them from the bodies of the slain. Challenge friends and choose big head mode, play with laser arrows only, play in slow-motion, turn on constant side-scrolling or a myriad of other game tweaks.
TowerFall rewards patience and calculated risk in both of its main modes, the multiplayer Versus mode and the solo or two-player Quest mode. The first level in Quest offers a fairly simple demonstration of what TowerFall has to offer, namely, piles of ghosts, slime balls, flying eyeballs and eventually, on stage five, another archer. It offers a balance, both challenging players and allowing them to grasp the simple controls – shoot, jump and dodge.
Luckily, it’s also a fun one. TowerFall mimics the frustration in games of yore, offering just enough hope that next time, you’ll be able to beat all of those nasty beasties. Or maybe next time. Well, maybe the next time. The mechanics are butter, allowing for rapid transitions among platforms and across the screen, all while flinging arrows at enemies or bouncing on their heads. It’s a game for a wide range of players, combining asset management and twitch controls with platforming and wonky physics. It’s superbly satisfying to launch a shot into an enemy’s back, jump to collect the arrow, leap down the gap at the bottom of the level and pop up at the top, directly on top of the boss enemy’s head.
It’s less satisfying when a rolling slimeball does the same to you, but it all shakes out in the end.
If TowerFall: Ascension had launched around the same time as Super Mario Bros, many of us may never have found the princess. It’s not just the pixel-art graphics, but the entire feel of TowerFall that makes it addictive. In every moment, you must gauge how many arrows you have, where the last arrow landed, where enemies (or friends) will drop in and how many shots it will take to obliterate the nearest threat. It’s a whole-brain game with minimal controls, and it’s the most fun I’ve had with a bow and arrow since The Year Of The Bow – or even the 1980s.