In the first few weeks of the Ouya‘s release, gamers were hard-pressed to find a reason to purchase the Android-based console. Sure, it was the new device on the block, but the Ouya failed to offer anything gamers hadn’t seen before… save for one mischievously addictive title called TowerFall. For all intents and purposes TowerFall was the Ouya’s killer-app, even if it wasn’t worth the console’s $99 price tag.
Now, TowerFall has broken free of its Ouya exclusivity and made its way onto the PS4 in the form of TowerFall: Ascension, a relatively unchanged port that boasts one new mode but is, most importantly, still as addictive as ever. TowerFall: Ascension, like its predecessor, focuses on delivering a very particular experience, even if that means closing itself off to a wide subset of gamers. Local multiplayer has returned in a big way as of late, and TowerFall: Ascension is leading the charge.
Where many games start small and then get more advanced as players go, TowerFall starts small and lets the chaos happen organically. Each player, regardless of which actual character they choose, begins each round with a set of arrows and five lives. They spawn in one corner of the game’s eight arenas/towers – all boasting some truly great 16-bit art – and must use the very basic tools at their disposal to survive. That might mean laying low until they can line up an arrow shot, or taking the offensive and jumping on an opponent’s head. All strategies are viable in TowerFall: Ascension, but contending with four players all simultaneously going after one another is easier said than done.
Matches are plenty chaotic on their own, but TowerFall takes things a step further by adding a selection of power-ups to the mix. At random intervals a chest will pop up on the battlefield and the first player to unlock said chest will net themselves a useful power-up for their arrows. In most cases, these buffs offer the player a significant advantage in battle, but not one that makes them unstoppable. Bomb arrows, for example, are as deadly to the target as they are the shooter, and one miss-timed shot can turn the power-up against its user.
For that matter, any offensive maneuver has its inherent risks, and can lead to certain doom if the attacking player isn’t careful. Any time an arrow misses its mark, for example, it becomes a free pickup on the battlefield – meaning one less arrow for the shooter and one more arrow for their enemies. As a result a fair bit of strategy goes in to winning a match of TowerFall, with luck still playing a large role. The frenetic nature of the game and the way smaller battles form within the larger match ensures that almost any person can pick up a controller and have a chance, and that’s what makes for a great couch-based multiplayer game.
The PS4 port of TowerFall: Ascension includes a quest mode that the Ouya version doesn’t. The mode offers a familiar wave-based survival experience that supports up to two players, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the basic multiplayer mode. In some respects, the quest mode serves as a decent primer for the main course, but its AI enemies are easily tackled by a healthy dose of pattern memorization. In short, the quest mode loses all of the unpredictability and strategy that comes with balancing three real-life opponents at the same time. The mode was seemingly added to address criticisms that TowerFall caters exclusively to local multiplayer gamers, but instead it only further calls attention to that fact.
It’s hard to overlook that, for as much as TowerFall: Ascension offers an engaging and addictive experience to casual and hardcore gamers alike, it lives or dies depending on whether players can get at least a couple friends together on a couch. It’s the game’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness. Luckily the title retails for a very reasonable $14.99 on PS4.
Still, those magic moments and the unadulterated fun that TowerFall: Ascension delivers should not be easily dismissed. Very few games outside of the rare PC indie title and Super Smash Bros. take the competition offline and still succeed these days. TowerFall is one of those rare exceptions because it’s easy to pick up and play and does a few things very well. It’s a bit limited in terms of its map, character, and mode selection, but that’s likely in service of keeping the focus on the core competitive multiplayer.
It would have been nice to see an online mode for those gamers who can’t corral a group at the drop of a hat, but, at the same time, the idea of hopping online runs opposite the game’s main goal of delivering the instant satisfaction, or crushing defeat, that comes from competing with the person right next to you. TowerFall: Ascension calls to mind the communal experience of past console generations, and is well worth recommending to those looking to reignite that nostalgia.
Have you had a chance to check out TowerFall: Ascension on PS4 or the original game on Ouya? How do you think it stacks up against other multiplayer focused titles?
TowerFall: Ascension is available now for the PS4.
Follow Anthony on Twitter @ANTaormina.