Traditionally, Towerfall Ascension pits a player and up to three friends against one another in an arrow shoot-out to the death, or together against waves of procedurally generated enemies. While easily dispatched on their own, AI enemies amass strength by overwhelming the player with divergent attack patterns. To best them, players need to master the dash manoeuvre and hone their archery skills. For an extra leg up, golden treasure chests containing powerups spawn randomly around levels. After surviving all enemy waves from an area of the overworld, players will have to tackle a final boss.
In the new Dark World expansion, Matt Thorson and his team blend new elements into this award winning formula. These include a new playable character, more special arrow types, deadlier enemies, inventive bosses, additional time trials, and new arenas. This new content gives veteran players more of what they love, but players that didn’t enjoy the original release aren’t going to find anything in Dark World to persuade them otherwise. Those that do enjoy Towerfall’s frantically fun gameplay and beautifully-pixelated art style are going to relish this new content.
First-time Vita players or previous fans playing on the new console will appreciate the handheld’s responsive D-pad and its crisp, beautiful OLED screen. However, Towerfall’s pocket transition has some minor drawbacks. The frame rate holds steady for the most part, but when the screen fills up with multiple projectiles and explosions things can get a bit sluggish. While it’s unclear at the moment, I’m hoping these technical issues are attributable to the game needing a few more optimizations for its new home, and not hardware limitation. Then again, even if the minimal hiccups can’t be fixed, Vita owners who haven’t given Towerfall a shot shouldn’t be dissuaded from doing so based purely on technical blemishes.
Overall, putting this game on the Vita seems like a home run. The game’s simple controls are a great fit, as more complex offerings on the system can make the handheld controls feel a bit cramped. Admittedly (even in a game with simple, smooth controls like Towerfall), when things get hectic the Vita’s cramped buttons can still cause some unintentional input. The real downside to being able to put Towerfall into your trousers is the lack of Co-Op partners. You can still play Co-Op, but it’ll mean your intended companion will need to have a Vita and a copy of the game too, as opposed to just firing up your PS4 and handing your buddy a controller.
While I won’t go so far as to say that Towerfall is as enjoyable as a single player experience, I will say that I had a ton of fun playing the Vita version solo. Some of the new maps are wonderful to play on, and enemies have brand new attacks that kept me guessing with each encounter, overshadowed only by the new bosses. Bosses are, quite simply, a joy to encounter. Like the rest of the game, they are beautifully animated and offer nail-biting skirmishes. Their attack patterns are deadly, but with keen observation they can be handled swiftly. Even though it takes more than three hits to take them down, the avoid-attack-avoid cut and thrust bossfight loop feels similar to boss encounters in the 2D entries of the Legend of Zelda series.The bosses are great, but most of the time you will be dodging hordes of smaller enemies. The new maps add new challenge and strategies to approaching waves that are absolutely necessary to master if you want to conquer the added legendary difficulty. New jump boosting platforms allow players to traverse the map vertically without needing to fall off the bottom off the screen first. Certain walls can be destroyed with bombs or trigger arrows to create alternative angles of approach. These additions allow the player(s) to plan which pathways they should open to navigate the map more quickly or keep them closed so that enemies can’t sneak up on them. The strategy offered by the new maps really highlight the talents of Matt’s studio.
Being able to make gameplay mechanics accessable to new players but difficult to master is what every game strives for. Mattmakesgames already achieved that with the original Towerfall Ascension, but with Dark World they’ve proven something even more impressive. Matt’s team has been able to take that balance of challenge and fun and inject enjoyable new elements without sacrificing any part of what made the original a hit. The only real complaint I have is that I wish there were more levels to conquer. Some of the best additions to Towerfall just aren’t used often enough, and I’d like to see the new arrow types appear more frequently, with more of those strategic levels that allow you to pick and choose which areas to open.
Overall though, when the biggest complaint about a game is that there isn’t enough of it to satisfy you, it’s a pretty good complaint to have.