PS4 review: TowerFall Ascension

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Super Smash Towers Fall

The Playstation 4 just got its first great game in TowerFall Ascension, a riotously fun 4-player archery grudge match that’s near impossible to put down. Archers hop around multitiered platforming levels, firing arrows and dodging enemy shots. Conflicts can be snappy one-shot kills or back-and-forth dances between players; they end with calculated arc shots or lucky boot stomps or even suicides, as a player’s upturned arrow drops back to earth and onto their face.

TowerFall’s closest point of reference is Super Smash Bros with a touch of Spelunky. There are aerial platforms, fast-falls, bombable dirt clods, directional air-dodges, faux-retro graphics, platforming stomp attacks, and scads of items. It does for Smash Bros what Smash Bros did for the fighting genre, stripping it down and building it up again from an entirely new perspective.

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Whatever you do, don’t steal this guy’s bramble arrows.

But TowerFall is more than a borrowing of elements. Shooting arrows at your opponents is slick and satisfying, as is plucking shots out of the air with a carefully timed dodge. There’s an arcade simplicity here that subverts its fighting game fundamentals. Players simply jump, aim, shoot, and  dodge — no quarter circles or smash attacks required.

This arcadiness is most apparent in the game’s cooperative Quest mode, where two players (or just one player!) face waves of enemies spawning in all corners of the tower. Every enemy has a well-defined personality, from jumping eyeblobs to lunge-stabbing cultists to explosive puppet wizards. Powerups spawn frequently from chests, and the screen wraps around Pac-Man style. Quest mode is a lot of fun and surprisingly lengthy for such a competition-oriented game.

But Versus mode is where TowerFall really shines. Two to four players brawl it out on one of the game’s many maps, with any number of different rulesets changing the flow of the match. There are rules for choosing starting weapons, symmetrical chest spawns, exploding corpses, revenge ghosts, pervading darkness, scrolling stages, plus a hell of a lot more. What’s also nice is that each stage has different permutations, with each subsequent round altering the layout of platforms.

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At least yellow caught a few arrows before he died.

There are three main Versus modes. Last Man Standing is the most serious, awarding a point to the last surviving player if there is one. Team Deathmatch is essentially Last Man Standing with teams. And Headhunters awards a point for each kill and subtracts one for suicides. It’s easily the best of the bunch for party play, since everyone’s earning points at once as they gain kills.

These modes all have their own delightful focus, but they’re also the game’s biggest weak point. With all of TowerFall’s stellar customizable options, it’s baffling that these are the game’s only modes. Because all of them lack one crucial feature: proper respawns.

Each game is comprised of multiple rounds, with defeated players waiting until the next round to rejoin. But why not let players respawn immediately, so they don’t have to wait for the action to begin anew? There’s a perfectly functional and (I’ll venture to say) absolutely brilliant respawn system in the co-op mode, wherein players burst to life in a fiery explosion.

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This is a different type of explosion altogether.

It would be perfect for multiplayer, said explosion preventing spawn-camping and returning players to the game with a tangible exclamation point. Plus, not having to wait around would heighten the game’s addictive, manic fun tenfold. And let’s not even imagine how great the game would be if you could toggle stage enemies on for multiplayer. TowerFall has so many great ideas that it absolutely nails, which makes the lack of extra game modes that much harder to swallow.

Still, I wouldn’t want to fool you into thinking TowerFall is anything short of phenomenal. You’ll laugh, you’ll cheer, you’ll gasp in surprise as you shoot yourself in the face. TowerFall is immediately accessible and surprisingly deep, an absolute gem amidst the PS4’s barren launch lineup. Don’t miss out on this one — TowerFall Ascension is dazzlingly brilliant.

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2 Responses to “PS4 review: TowerFall Ascension”

  1. Strawberry Says:

    This looks a little to simple for me, but I’ve never played it, so my opinion could change if I did. But since I don’t have a PS4, and I don’t really plan on getting one, I’ll probably never play this game. Have fun playing!

    • catstronaut Says:

      It is simple, but it’s the sort of game where its depth is what you make of it. For example I play a lot of bullet hell shooters, which are basically just 3-button affairs. But they’re some of the deepest, most skill-based games around.

      TowerFall has simple controls, but there’s a lot of nuance to aiming and arcing shots, and dodging + catching arrows is a precise, involved movement. There’s a lot of reflex and reaction to it, but there’s also a lot to take into account when you have four players speeding around the map and a ton of powerups to contend with. TowerFall captures a lot of the depth of skill-based fighters while making the inputs and action more natural.

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