Post reshared from: https://mashable.com, We’ve strayed so far from utopia. It didn’t need to be this way.In decades past, video games didn’t need guns, maps filled with icons, arcane upgrade systems, or loot treadmills. They only needed platforms and a way to jump between them. I’m pretty sure my first video game was Super Mario 64 (my sincerest apologies if that makes you feel old) and I’ve always found hopping between surfaces in video games to be innately pleasurable.That’s a big part of why Solar Ash stayed on my radar in a holiday season full of games with bigger names and bigger budgets. Developer Heart Machine’s sophomore effort (after 2016’s brutally difficult and aesthetically masterful Hyper Light Drifter) is a pure 3D platformer in a world where those aren’t nearly as big a deal as they once were. I have a lot of love in my heart for grandiose 80-hour productions, but at the end of the day, it’s hard to pull me away from a game where pretty much all you do is dance around on rocket skates in decaying sci-fi societies for six hours.
The Ultravoid contains the remains of several dead planets.
Credit: Annapurna Interactive
The star of the show is Rei, a member of a faction of “Voidrunners” who have taken it upon themselves to explore a massive black hole, the Ultravoid, and find a way to stop it from consuming their nearby home planet. Rei crash lands in the Ultravoid to find all of her colleagues missing in action and a potentially planet-saving device called the Starseed lacking the power it needs to function. After a brief tutorial, you’ll spend the rest of Solar Ash exploring a handful of zones that spoke out from a central hub area, finding ways to clear out black, oozy alien corruption, power up the Starseed, and find out what the hell happened to your homies.This is accomplished by wandering around each freely explorable zone and looking for points of corruption that can only be washed away by clearing quick platforming challenges. It sounds simple and repetitive on paper, but what makes it work is an immaculate set of platforming tools bestowed upon the player at the start of the game. Rei’s default movement speed is slow and not especially useful, but hold the left trigger and she starts elegantly skating with her rocket boots, giving you enough momentum to reach the next platform. She can also double jump, quickly boost forward with a press of the right trigger, and use a grappling hook to zip to specific points in the environment. The last move in Rei’s arsenal will slow time down for a few seconds and extend the range of the grappling hook to give the player a little more margin for error, but that’s purely optional for most of the game. Grappling around generally feels fluid and responsive, though the default range could stand to be a little longer when you aren’t sipping on time juice.That’s all you get. Rei never unlocks new abilities or significantly alters her existing ones. Finding optional collectibles that tell the story of each missing Voidrunner will net you new suits with minor bonuses like a reduced boost cooldown, but your toolset at the start of the game is identical to the one you have at the end. Meager bonuses or not, I highly recommend following the plot threads and seeking out those collectibles, because you’ll be rewarded with excellent writing and voice acting that deepens your connection to the story.
Get used to grappling.
Credit: Annapurna Interactive
In its best moments, Solar Ash has to be played to be believed. Effortlessly gliding around on galactic clouds, grinding on rails as they take you around the exterior of a dilapidated skyscraper, and hopping between gravity-defying platforms leading to a upside-down graveyard in the sky make up just a few of the delightful set pieces scattered around the Ultravoid. All of these moments beg you to keep your finger on the skating trigger as much as possible so you can keep generating the momentum necessary to make each jump, and more importantly, to look cool as hell while doing so. What makes Solar Ash sing is how wonderful it feels to simply exist in these spaces. Sure, each of the half-dozen or so areas Rei has to explore introduces unique visuals and mechanics, such as quickly transporting spores between color-coded mushrooms to open doors. But none of that would matter if it wasn’t fun to just dance along the clouds without working toward a particular objective. Crucially, when you are trying to make progress, the level of challenge is usually reasonable.I wouldn’t categorize Solar Ash as an easy game, as many of the platforming challenges require precise timing with limited leeway for missing jumps. Exploration can occasionally be a bit too obtuse as well. Tutorials after the opening sequence are almost nonexistent, so in order to figure out that you need to move spores between mushrooms or search for three switches to open one door in one zone, you’ll need to be observant and experiment a bit. I’m generally cool with that in games, but there were a handful of times throughout the adventure where I got temporarily stuck in a way that broke up the momentum. Beyond all that, the tutorials at the start could stand to explain a bit more; it’s not clearly spelled out enough that some black ooze will hurt you if you touch it for too long and other bits of sticky black ooze are safe to climb on, for example. The two have slightly different coloration and it’s too subtle.
The laws of gravity only apply very loosely here.
Credit: Annapurna Interactive
Those problems only rear their heads in rare instances and largely didn’t get in the way of my enjoyment. There aren’t many bottomless pits in the Ultravoid, so missing a jump is often more inconvenient than dangerous. It gets treacherous in later areas, but even there, falling into a pit takes one chunk off your life bar (easily refilled by busting open abundant boxes around each level) instead of outright killing you. I should probably mention that there are some cannon fodder enemies strewn about the place that you can kill by mashing an attack button. Most of them die in one or two hits and they can all be avoided if you’re skillful enough at skating past them. While these small encounters are largely inoffensive and quick to get through without losing momentum by design, they don’t really add anything to the experience. Luckily, there is one form of combat in Solar Ash worth looking forward to.All of Rei’s efforts in each area eventually culminate in a boss fight against an enormous, screen-filling monster called a Remnant. These are largely thrilling and incredible, while pushing the “challenging but forgiving” aspect of Solar Ash to its limits. Rather than finding weak points and whacking them with attacks, each Remnant fight is a platforming gauntlet that has Rei skating and jumping along the boss’s bony exoskeleton at high speeds. The idea is to follow a line of points that need to be attacked before a timer runs out, at which point Rei is thrown clear of the Remnant and the gauntlet is reset. Remnant fights stress your reflexes and memorization skills to the max, but even at their most difficult, I never hit a game over screen during one of them. Failure just means falling off and starting over rather than dying. Unlike the irrelevant small enemies in each level, the Remnant fights fully utilize the best aspects of Solar Ash and are a real highlight.We live in a depressing world where Mario is more or less the last bastion of big-budget 3D platforming. Sure, every now and then an Astro’s Playroom shows up and surprises us all, but those are startlingly rare exceptions. It feels like the universe doesn’t want one of the most wholesome and purely enjoyable game genres to exist anymore. That’s why, even with some minor imperfections, Solar Ash captured my attention and didn’t let go until the credits rolled. It marries fast, skillful moves with a more heartfelt narrative than you usually get from 3D platformers. People like me who love these types of games often have to adopt a “beggars can’t be choosers” mindset, but in this case, there’s no need. Solar Ash is the real deal and shouldn’t be slept on in a packed holiday season. Source: Read More