TowerFall Ascension has been bringing multiplayer mayhem to gamers since it originally debuted on the indie console OUYA in 2013 (albeit with a wee bit shorter name). Since then the game has expanded, brought in some new single player content, but has retained at its core the local multiplayer fun that made it such a standout in the first place.
Now this darling of the indie scene makes its arrival on the PlayStation Vita as a near-perfect port. It is local multiplayer at its finest, but it also shows that the game’s biggest strength also turns out to be its greatest weakness.
TowerFall Ascension is an arcade archery combat game in which players select from one of four different pixelated warriors to do battle in a single screen fight. As originally envisioned, up to four players enter a simple arena and utilize a variety of different methods to take out their opponents. Each fighter has only a limited number of arrows to fire, so you either need to be steady with your aim or quick to retrieve astray arrows stuck in walls (or corpses).
Expanding on this multiplayer fun, the game also includes a single-player component as well as some fun co-op experiences. These modes include the “Quest” in which one or two players can try to defeat several rounds of enemies and clear all the levels on the map. Or there’s the “Trials” mode which gives you a time limit to destroy five straw dummies scattered throughout the level. Throughout each stage, players get access to new arrow types (like drill or exploding arrows) and different upgrades such as wings to enable flight.
And while the single-player aspects of the game are a fun distraction, the soul of this game is the multiplayer. It’s fast and chaotic. The limited supply of ammo means that things get tense very quickly. And the single screen mechanics (i.e. falling down the bottom of the screen makes you reappear at the top, Pac-Man style) makes it so that your need for situational awareness must always remain on high alert. There’s nothing worse than lining up your perfect shot only to have an opponent drop down on you unexpectedly when you weren’t paying attention to the bottom of the screen. I was rather amazed at how much fun I was having playing the multiplayer, a mode I usually choose to ignore.
Part of the reason the game is so much fun to play is that it’s not only simple in its mechanics but also in its controls. New comers don’t have to worry about learning a dozen different button combos or figuring out which button does what. Aside from moving, you’re limited to jump/shoot/dodge (with dodge also allowing you to catch arrows shot your way). This limited set of abilities helps to take your mind off the controls and back to the action on the screen.
The downside to everything is that the muliplayer in the game is local only. That means that if you want to play against your friends, everyone needs their own Vita and a copy of the game. There is no online component in TowerFall Ascension. And while this kind of local multiplayer would be exciting if everyone in the world owned Vitas, sadly that is not the case. Most of this game will be lost to most people unless you have a local group of Vita-owning friends who are all looking for some chaotic arcade action.
Actually where the game shines brightest is on the PlayStation TV. TowerFall is one of the few games that takes advantage of local multiplayer on the PSTV, and up to four players can all join in on the action. It works fluidly and fast. In fact, if you have a PSTV and a Vita, you can play an adhoc match with one person on the PSTV and one on the Vita (but if you want to have more than two players, everyone has to be on the PSTV).
Visually the game isn’t much to look at. The pixel art for the four different heroes all vary slightly, even if they all play the same, but ultimately there’s so much happening on screen that it’s hard to take notice of the game’s graphics. They’re basic and functional. What’s more admirable is how smoothly everything flows. Even with some nice environmental effects, such as thunder storms or blackouts, the game performed remarkably solid.
Sound-wise, things are just as solid and old school. The music is appropriately themed for a fantasy adventure of this sort and the sound effects do an admirable job of embracing the game’s 8-bit heritage.
In the end, TowerFall Ascension is a fantastic multiplayer experience that is burdened by the fact that it is only a local multiplayer experience. Even the single-player Quest mode is better with a friend and extremely difficult without one. Players looking to go it alone will find it lacking, but for those with friends who own Vitas (or if you have a PlayStation TV) then it’s an amazing good time.