Hours upon hours of arrow-slinging fun

Jon Mercer
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TowerFall Ascension
PlayStation 4, PC

Multiplayer. It has always been an integral part of gaming, bound to the very root, with the earliest of arcade fare.

Arena action in “TowerFall Ascension.” — Submitted image

From “Pong” and the high score-oriented games of the 1980s, through the one-on-one fighting game boom of the 1990s, and the phenomenon that has been the first-person shooter — not to mention the multitude of sports games that have thrived through video gaming’s entire history — there’s just something intrinsically satisfying about clashing with close friends and even complete strangers in the digital coliseum.

I’ve had more than a few favourites over the years: “oust,” “Smash TV,” “Street Fighter II,” “NBA Jam,” “General Chaos,” “Warcraft II,” “Halo,” “Gears of War,” and the all-time heavyweight champ, “Saturn Bomberman.”

This week, I discovered a game that just about meets all the criteria to stand amongst these giants in the halls of gaming Valhalla. But does “TowerFall Ascension” stand tall and true, or only in the shadows of multiplayer favourites?

Deceptively fun

An updated version of the 2013 exclusive for the android-based Ouya console (available for PC and PS4), “TowerFall Ascension” is a combat arena game whose simple design belies the incredible amount of fun to be had with its deceptive depth and lightning pace.

Up to four players compete in a battle royale, attempting to slay one another with bows and arrows. However, each player starts with a mere three arrows, all of which can be fired in less than one second of sloppy shooting. Arrows can be retrieved from walls, or even the bodies of fallen foes, but the other players can snag them just as easily. The fleet-footed characters can nimbly leap around the stage, and scale them from bottom to top with a tight little wall-jump and an air dash that, if timed right, can snatch incoming arrows out of their flight and add them to one’s quiver.

With just these simple mechanics, “TowerFall” can grab hold of your attention for a couple of hours, but then it starts throwing in modifiers and power ups to keep the game interesting.

There are shields and wings that allow for unlimited air jumping, and a plethora of highly destructive arrowheads (gotta love those drill arrows) that will have opponents running for higher ground. The stages go dark, or distort to simulate vertigo.

Sometimes the game throws bullet-time out to throw players off. Sometimes columns of magic energy, or rising lava appear on screen, cutting the size of the playing field in half. Just when you think you have seen it all, something occurs in a new combination that freshens up the entire game again. “TowerFall” might just be the best party game of the year.

Four’s company

While there is a challenge mode, for hitting moving targets, and a quest mode that can be played by a single player, the only way I would suggest enjoying “TowerFall Ascension” is through the four-player battle mode.

With four friends in the same room, it becomes a frantic situation that harks back to marathon sessions of “GoldenEye” and the excellent “Saturn Bomberman.”

Gamers will be dashing to and fro, trying to not only line up those perfect shots through candles and torches that can’t be snagged out of the air, but also sneaking in those humiliating head-bop kills, when a foe is trampled underfoot like one of Mario’s enemies.

Couple that with the ability to completely customize the game and decide what sorts of power ups and effects might appear during a match, and you have hours upon hours of arrow-slinging fun.

However, I do take umbrage with “TowerFall”’s horrific lack of online multiplayer. I love the idea, the dream of getting four friends together in the same room for a game. However, as a 30-something with a full-time career and a family, the opportunity to do so simply does not present itself.

“TowerFall” is a game that needs, that screams for an online multiplayer mode. If this one glaring omission were present, I wouldn’t ever complain about a lack of new software on my PS4. That’s how much I want to love this game.

The graphics and audio howl with retro fury — simple pixel sprites that are brightly coloured and animated in a manner that would have been impossible in the era they emulate, and a soundtrack that sounds too good to be true, combining chiptunes with soaring cinematic cues that sound as if they were plucked out of John Boorman’s “Excalibur.” With clever animations and a cracker of a score, the game has charm to spare.

“TowerFall Ascension” is a game I really want to play more of.

Having a few friends handy is a prerequisite to enjoying what could be the best  party game in years.

Platform: PlayStation 4, PC (PS4 version reviewed)

Developer: Matt Makes Games

Publisher: Matt Makes Games

Release Date: March 11, 2014

Rated: E10+ for Everyone 10 and up.

Contact Jon Mercer at thejonmercer@gmail.com.

Geographic location: Valhalla

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