TowerFall Ascension is a must-have for anyone with a couch and friends to fill it. That’s enough for me, but I’m sure you’d like a bit more info. TFA is the console port of TowerFall, brainchild of Matt Thorson, who originally came up with the concept during a game jam. It’s a 2D multiplayer shooter, wherein you’re tasked with killing your friends in an arena with one of several agile archers. And it’s led to some of the most fun multiplayer matches I’ve had in the last ten years.
Firstly, let’s talk about the gameplay. It’s fantastic! You play as one of several characters (my personal favourite being the Last of the Order), and given a simple goal; survive. You’ll have other archers to contend with, as well as stage hazards, with a seemingly limited skillset to make use of. You have jump, shoot, and dash buttons, and that seems rather limited. But as you play, you realise that if you dash into an arrow, you catch it and add it to your stockpile. You panic when out of arrows, and realise that bumping into another player steals one of their arrows. You learn that you can jump off of walls for extra mobility, or crouch to hide for ambushes. The simple controls hide a surprising amount of depth, and keep players from being scared off by complex controls. They’re fast, and responsive, and just plain perfect.
Beyond the standard moves, there are loads of pickups to change the game, and your moveset. Bomb arrows, bramble arrows that create thorn patches, wings, stealth items, shields, laser arrows that reflect, and many many more. All of these can be found in chests as you play, and can be stolen by other players (or off of them), so beware.
Multiplayer is where you’ll spend the bulk of your time in the game, and thankfully, you earn most of the unlockables here, which always makes me happy. Random events can happen in certain stages, unlocking new stages and archers, and the levels are packed with details and quite a few secrets. Anyone who knows me, knows I love secrets in a game more than anything, and this game has a fair amount, as I still haven’t found everything yet after hours and hours of play. There are several gametypes, including Last Man Standing, Headhunters, and tons and tons of options and mods available. Sick of only shooting in eight directions? Turn on 360 aiming. Have a favourite specialty arrow? Make it where you start with that. Want to play a game of pure skill? You can turn off all of that and have a good old 1v1, with only the arrows in your quiver to assist you. Like mixing it up? Set everything to random and enjoy the chaos. This is a multiplayer mode right up there with Goldeneye 007, Perfect Dark, and Lethal League, and that’s not an analogy I take lightly.
The graphics are some of the best pixel art I’ve seen, with tons of fun details (my favourite being the ability to shoot one’s hat off, and pick it back up). Each stage is very different, with excellent theming and atmosphere. The music and sound effects that accompany each stage are wonderful too, and add to the overall experience. The characters even have a unique digital ‘voice’, a bit similar to the cries in early Pokémon games. Just little bloops and bleeps of differing pitches, adding a little personality to your avatar onscreen.
The only gripe I have with the game is the paltry single player offerings, which while fine, won’t hold your interest for too long. It involves you facing off against waves of A.I. controlled enemies, alone or with a friend. Personally, I got bored with it after four or five worlds, but anyone who likes the sort of game that throws waves after waves of enemies at you will enjoy it well enough. The multiplayer mode is more than enough to make up for single player’s shortcomings.
This is one game I have no issue with gushing over, and it’s required playing among my friends. Everyone that I’ve introduced it to has absolutely loved it, and it quickly goes from one quick game to a dozen or more nearly every time. I’ve played this since the original version released on the ill-fated Ouya, and look forward to many more years of play with it. It gets even better with the Dark World expansion, but as that’s not part of the base game, I’ll not include it as part of this review. It’s one of the essential multiplayer games, alongside classics like Bomberman, Goldeneye 007, and Super Smash Bros. You need this in your library.
As a bonus, I love to suggest to friends to turn on only toy arrows (that only knock you back slightly) and play on a stage with stage hazards for a very fun, if potentially frustrating, experience.