April 29, 2014 | by Mike Cosimano
TowerFall: Ascension Review (PS4)
The most expensive indie game ever?
Not quite a bullseye
Summary: If you can manage to afford the ideal conditions for Towerfall: Ascension, you'll have a pretty good time.

3

Hard to recommend


Look, I love me some local multiplayer. I have fond memories of splitscreen parties, and I’m willing to bet you do too. There’s something pure about being in the same room with people, getting excited about the same experience. But as I grew up, I noticed the age of being able to ring up your friends and have them bring their controllers for some quality Battlefront 2 time has quietly changed. That scenario comes alongside a console generation’s twilight; as these boxes get cheaper, they also become more ubiquitous. It’s harder to find someone packing a DualShock 4 than a DualShock 3, for example. As a result, that makes TowerFall: Ascension kind of a dicey prospect, at least on PS4.

At its core, the game is refreshingly simple. Your character is a skilled archer, with 3 arrows, each of which downs a foe in one hit. But once you’re out of arrows, you have to collect them from corpses (or the walls, if you missed). You’re not defenseless when your quiver is empty — you can stomp on a foe’s head and you’ve got a fairly effective dodge move — but arrows are still vital. When you’re dry, it’s in your best interest to go reload. In a lesser game, this would be a slog, but TowerFall’s controls are tight and your character is more than capable of getting across the map in a hot second.

With any luck, you’ll spend most of your time in TowerFall’s ‘Versus’ mode. It’s local-only, so up to four players can grab a controller and duke it out. Unless your social circle is full of stone-faced Puritans, everyone should have a great time. Much like Divekick, matches can end almost as quickly as they begin, and the core mechanics are real easy to grasp. How those mechanics expand is where TowerFall and Divekick take separate paths; each character in TowerFall plays the same, which helpfully shortens the gulf between experienced players and newcomers. There’s no character with a crazy dodge or a special arrow technique. So if you’re good at videogames, you’ll be able to hang with TowerFall veterans no problem.

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However. I said “with any luck”, because the ideal TowerFall conditions are just a little too specific. DualShock 4s cost $60 apiece, in addition to the PS4’s $400 entry fee. At the moment, I can’t ring up a friend and get them to bring their DualShock 4. I only had an extra from when GameStop was selling them in advance, and even then I only got that for my job. If you have a PC with Bluetooth capabilities, you should be able to use pretty much any gamepad, but we can’t speak to the quality of that version.

There’s some single-player content, but it’s not exactly substantive. Poor (or lonely) players can choose between ‘Quest’ and ‘Trials’ if they can’t find buddies to play with. The Quest mode is essentially a series of maps with 7 to 8 waves of monsters for players to fight. Early maps have gimmicks — be it a special arrow type or monster theme. This makes the initial battles feel almost like tutorials; preparing you for the later, more diverse maps.

However, TowerFall doesn’t quite know how to properly tutorialize its upper-level mechanics. ‘Mirage’, for example, has a floating diamond-eye thing with an affinity for laser arrows. But, since the game hadn’t told me about laser arrows, I bashed my head against that level for what felt like hours before realizing that I could grab the laser arrows. Plus, the borderline muddy visuals made the projectiles appear to be simple lasers. There’s no shame in a proper tutorial, and I wish TowerFall realized that.

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I found solace in ‘Trials’, thankfully. It’s a fairly simple time attack mode where you have to demolish a certain amount of dummies in a certain amount of time. The game hands you everything you need to make the best time. It’s on you to puzzle out how everything is supposed to work. But even that mode is somewhat lean. Once you’ve hit a cap — I will never be able to get the diamond times on most of these — you will never want to play it ever again, regardless of its strong first impression.

Look, there’s a good chance that, come year’s end, I’ll be looking at TowerFall as some of the best multiplayer I’ve played this year. That part is fantastic, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s got a killer soundtrack. However, the entry fee is ridiculous (especially on PS4), and too much hinges on both your social circle and how many controllers you have. I can easily recommend this game to people who fall into the middle of this weird Venn diagram between money-havers and socialites. But, speaking anecdotally, that group is just too small for me to wholeheartedly recommend TowerFall: Ascension.

Mike Cosimano

Mike Cosimano used to be in charge of this place, but now he isn't! Now he's on Destructoid.

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