Publisher/developer: Matt Makes Games, Inc Format: PC (version tested), PS4 Release: Out now
TowerFall: Ascension is an uproarious single-screen multiplayer brawler that differentiates itself from all the other uproarious single-screen brawlers released of late with its focus on precision, its clear visual design, and the strict economy of ammunition built into its chief mode of combat: archery.
Each player begins the round with three arrows, which are a persistent part of the gameworld. Arrows lodged in corpses or the environment can be retrieved by anybody, and this makes careless shooting risky. The pursuit of arrows also ensures that players keep moving; despite a focus on ranged combat, this isn’t a game where camping is especially viable.
Your moveset includes wall-jumping, ledge grabbing, and a mid-air dodge. It’s possible to dodge in eight directions, meaning that it can be used like a double jump as well as to evade projectiles. Crucially, dodging an incoming arrow at the precise moment it reaches you allows you to snatch it out of the air, adding further depth to fourplayer duels and providing options when facing arrow-spewing monsters in twoplayer co-op.
The only way to kill a dodging opponent is to leap onto their heads. Even arrow-less foes are dangerous at close range, and this in turn encourages a race for the high ground. Maps wrap around – players leaving from one side will reappear at the screen’s opposite edge – and therefore dropping off the bottom of the screen is potentially a way to quickly turn a disadvantageous position into a more advantageous one.
In co-op, each monster has its own behavioural patterns and set of vulnerabilities. These harpies, for example, are able to deflect your first arrow with a whirlwind, forcing you to use two in succession to beat them.
The drawback of this system is that it is confusing. Watching the sides of the map is just as important as watching the area immediately around your character, and this can diffuse your focus in a way that plays against the game’s greatest strength – the complex interactions between arrows and players that occurs at close range. It does not ultimately prevent experienced players from enjoying the game, but early on the frustration can dull TowerFall’s lustre.
This may be the age of the single-screen brawler, but TowerFall is among the most feature-rich of its kind. Three multiplayer modes are available, including team deathmatch. Its twoplayer co-op, which repurposes multiplayer maps as wave-survival challenges, also functions as a challenging singleplayer score-attack game. Then there’s the deep well of archery challenges available to players who are seeking to fully master TowerFall’s mechanics. The lack of online multiplayer means that those who can’t gather a group of friends in front of their screen will miss out on the game’s best feature, but TowerFall still does an admirable job of providing plenty to do in its absence.