By Guy Rainey / March 2nd, 2015
|Release Date||May 13, 2014|
|Genre||Rogue-like Beat ’em up|
Ascendant is a 2D rogue-like beat ’em up that came out last summer from indie developer Hapa Games as a result of a successful Kickstarter. It’s a strikingly beautiful game, and it’s one of the most challenging games I’ve ever played. In over ten hours of playing it, I’ve only managed to complete the game once. And, yet, I loved every minute of my experience, and it’s an experience I highly recommend.
The story is very simple: you play as one of seven playable characters (two are available from the start, five are unlockable), based on classical mythology trying to ascend into godhood (hence the title). There’s almost nothing in the way of character interaction or cutscenes to advance the plot. It’s more about each individual journey. As mentioned, each character has unique abilities, but that’s only the beginning. Every weapon, health increase and stat buff you collect shapes your character, and makes every run unique. That’s the story Ascendant is interested in telling.
There’s a very fine line between a challenging game (a game that is difficult to master, but fair) and a punishing game (a game that cannot be beaten without previous experience). Even when a game is simply legitimately challenging, giving the player enough information so that they know what they could do better is extremely important. Very few games pull off such a delicate balance, but Ascendant does it beautifully. As a player, you’ll learn from every death. The fact that I lost so many times, just to keep coming back should be a testament in itself for how good this game is. That said, I played this game on Baby Mode as soon as it was available (which I’m convinced the developers added for my benefit).
As stated, Ascendant is a rogue-like beat’em up. It’s pretty straightforward: each time the game starts, each level is randomized. The levels are made up of pre-built rooms, put together in a random order. Most rooms have a number of enemies in them that you’ll need to defeat. Defeat all the enemies, and you’ll get a treasure chest. Complete rooms until you get to the boss. Beat the boss, then repeat. You have a melee weapon, magic for range and a counter attack (which you’ll need to get good at for the boss encounters).
So, basically, it’s pretty simple, but each run is different, not only because each layout is unique, but because, in each playthrough, you’ll get different ability boosts. Beating a boss will give you a blessing from one of the gods. The effects will depend on what portion of your body you place it on; weapon (giving your attack some advantage), body (giving you some extra abilities) and spells (increasing the effectiveness of your magic). You can further add to your abilities with spirits, though these are rare. More common are health increases, armored health (effectively doubles the damage a health point can take) and weapon upgrades. Still, these ability increases will only help you so much. Learning how to play well is the best thing you can do.
The presentation in Ascendant is wonderful. From the soft melodies of spring to the haunting themes of winter, this game’s music perfectly fits the theme of the level, and helps set the tone as each level becomes more and more dangerous. The graphics are simple, but very pleasant, and perfectly fit the game. Even on the lowest graphical setting, these graphics are amazing and run at a very nice clip. I have no doubt that most computers will be able to run this game without slowdown, and that’s the only thing that could ruin the experience. Those that can crank the graphics up all the way will find extremely rich graphics. I couldn’t ask for anything more from this game’s presentation.
So, all in all, this is an incredible package. The perfect presentation makes it instantly appealing, and there are infinite playthroughs in this game. I’ve beaten Ascendant once with one character, and there are six more, all with new interesting ways to play, and many more hours of mastery. And, yet, it’s a great game for a quick session, since most games won’t last more than half an hour, thanks to the high difficulty. But even with the high difficulty, it’s still a game you’ll want to come back to, since you can always clearly see how you can improve. This is an experience everyone should try at least once, and one that I believe everyone would enjoy. Most people will probably never beat it, but I suspect everyone will feel like they can, and that makes it a great game.
Review copy provided by the publisher.