Towerfall: Ascension by Matt Thorsen is a combat platformer that places archers in an arena to fight for glory and bragging rights. Developed primarily with local multiplayer in mind, it reminds me of playing Goldeneye for the N64 with friends when I was younger. Towerfall makes me wish local multiplayer wasn’t something almost forgotten in today’s industry. If you have the local player-base, the game combines a competitive atmosphere, zany gameplay, and retro graphics to create a great experience.
The aesthetics of Towerfall are very good. The graphics in the game are done in a modern pixel art style. The sound design applies simple sound effects and a solid soundtrack to ensure the game is appealing from an audio perspective. I think it is a good example of marrying sound, graphics, and style so the sum is greater than the whole. This unification gives Towerfall a unique personality.
This personality spills into the character and level design. The various archers feel different, despite having no actual gameplay difference or dialogue. I feel each character was given a persona purely by their title and appearance. The levels are well done and provide a good variety of environments. Each level has different layout and graphics. I felt most levels were thematically different and allowed for different strategies to be applied. Enemy design and aesthetics are also cohesive with each level. Some levels contain specific enemies that further drive the theme of each level. Many monsters have unique behavior and weaknesses, making them feel believable and different. There are some enemy re-skins and reuse, but overall the variety is enough.
There are 3 main modes in Towerfall: quest, multiplayer, and trials. Quest mode is a single player/co-op mode that I found myself primarily playing. In this mode, you go through the various levels of the game defeating waves of monsters. This mode is decent for learning the game and features a “hardcore” difficulty, but I didn’t feel the need to play through it again. Trials mode is similar to the target run in Super Smash Bros. This mode was fun to play through once but like the quest mode, I personally wouldn’t go back. Overall I found the single player modes somewhat boring. I only really found myself playing through the levels to just see the new enemies and gather some unlockables.
The game is marketed at couch multiplayer and the arena is where the designer’s dream is realized. It allows 2-4 people to test their skills and has a full array of options to modify the game such as changing win conditions, items available, and level variables. There is even a system to give losing or inexperienced players a handicap. The mode is well polished and is something I can see playing on game nights for a long time.
The actual gameplay is what makes Towerfall great. It is crisp and simple enough for anyone to learn. Characters can simply only shoot arrows, move, jump, and dash. Compounding upon these basic actions, the designer added more features to enhance gameplay. For example, the arrows have slight homing properties. This allows players to not have completely accurate aim(which can be hard with only 8 way aim) but still be competitive. There are also a lot of various power ups. Things like shields, bomb arrows, wings, and drill arrows all work to create dynamic scenarios and open up strategic options. I found myself starting to focus on one type of power up to fit my play style. This all comes together to give a strong sense of flow. I always felt like a badass, dodging two arrows, catching the third, and firing it midair for a kill. Win or lose the gameplay is fast, fun, and furious.
My praise for the game is overshadowed a bit by some things though. The controls and movement system take a bit of getting used too. I was pretty frustrated until I learned the nuances. As I said above, the single player content is somewhat boring. Maybe leaderboards or something could have helped. This game hinges on being able to play with friends, without others the experience is extremely short. This is a game I’d highly recommend everyone to try out. I’d only warrant a purchase if multiplayer sessions could be set up.
Pass or Play?
Play if you:
- Like games that are easy to learn but hard to master.
- Reminisce about local gameplay.
- Want to dive into a theme that is whimsical and fun.
Pass if you:
- Don’t have friends to play the game with.
- Are tired of the pixel art look in indie games.
- Prefer games with a story or more developed single player mode.
My recommendation: Pass. The game is great, but I can’t really recommend buying unless you have the friends to play with.