Towerfall Ascension PS4 review – High and mighty same-screen brawler raises the bar

There are, as reductive as it sounds, just two kinds of game. There are the games with their hearts set on pushing the boundaries, challenging possibilities and creating new experiences – a perfectly worthy manifesto. And then there are the ones that leave the boundaries exactly as they were, and try to make every single element damn near perfect. Towerfall Ascension is resolutely one of the latter, and thwack me with the hyperbole stick if it isn’t remarkably close to the p-word.

Towerfall Ascension PS4 review

Its premise is a TARDIS of depth and longevity: a 2-4 player 2D local multiplayer brawler in the Smash Bros/Bomberman/Nidhogg tradition, in which you each have a bow, three arrows (which you have to retrieve) and a jump attack at your disposal. A single hit from either kills you instantly, whereupon you enter an ultra-satisfying replay mode and marvel at the impossibly frenetic three seconds that led to your demise. It’s often hilarious, never frustrating, always fair and always different. With three arrows and a jump attack, you’re empowered to a level that the muscle-bound world-savers in your pile of triple-A titles could never equal.

Towerfall Ascension PS4 gameplay. Subscribe for more PS4 videos.

Not that we’ve even begun to plumb its depths, you understand. Each arena, in a flagrant assault on everything Sir Isaac Newton held dear, spits you out from the top of the screen if you fall through a gap on the bottom. Horizontal movement allows for similar spatial tomfoolery in the heat of battle. It’s a perfectly valid tactic to forget the whole arrows thing and stalk your prey using the periphery of the screen to snag your unsuspecting foe.

But we’ve still barely scraped the surface. For the first half hour or so, each new round brings a mind-boggling new discovery. Oh, you can dash in mid-air? That’s handy. You can collect the projectiles of your opponents? Even handier. Did you see that one catch fire as it passed through a torch? Nice touch. Wait, did… did I just catch an arrow in mid-flight?

You never forget the first time your arrow hit
an opponent’s in mid-air, tumbled through
the level and skewered you a second later

You sure did, confusingly past-tense me. Dashing in any direction while an arrow hits you will nullify the attack and collect the ammo for your own use. Pulling it off makes you feel like Han Solo bench-pressing a monster truck. In fact, roughly every five seconds you’ll do something incredible, which means your deaths barely sting at all. You never forget the first time your arrow hit an opponent’s in mid-air, tumbled through the level and skewered you a second later, and equally you’ll never stop finding it hilarious when it happens again.

Each stage has its own batch of power-ups. You’ll find bramble arrows that leave a carpet of insta-death where they land only in the forest, and moving stones capable of pulping you in a blink in underwater-only situations.

There’s almost as much pure, unbridled pleasure in the 1-2 player co-op Quest mode, in which you team up on the same machine to slay hordes of AI enemies, though competitive play is the finer of the two experiences. That means you’ll need at least one extra pad to get the full experience – a serious consideration at the DualShock 4’s current RRP.

Contributing hugely to Towerfall’s pitch-perfect tactile experience is the game’s pixel art visual design – a look that fills your lucky peepers with a sense of wonder rarely felt since those heady SNES days. The quality of your movement and the jumping animations really convey a satisfying weight to the world, and you keep noticing new incidental details – such as your character’s breath in the air in icy stages – hours into your experience. Even the DualShock 4 sounds are totally charming, 16-bit audio relics which, 229 attempts into the last Quest level, still aren’t grating on me.

Creator Matt Thorson has achieved a ludicrous standard of gameplay in Towerfall Ascension, one that seduces you instantly and jettisons all thoughts of million-poly character models and full-performance capture from your gaming consciousness. So here’s to keeping the boundaries exactly as they are, and building something astonishing between them.ncapable of producing five seconds of gameplay bereft of some wonderful and hilarious circumstance, as well as offering a chasm of depth, this is an instant must-have in your PS4 library.

Our Score

Score: 9 Gold Award