Towerfall: Ascension is the break out indie hit and brain child of developer Matt Thorson. Since its release, reviewers and game journalists alike seemingly couldn’t come up with enough superlatives to describe how great this game was. Literally every review I read was more glowing than the last. Because of this, Towerfall became a poster child for the success possible by small independent indie developers.
Like most things indie, Towerfall has an interesting story. It was released in 2013 as an Ouya console exclusive.
Ouya console? Is that even english Krampus? How the heck do you pronounce that word?
Yes it’s English (I think) and no I can’t help you pronounce it. However, Ouya is a real console and Towerfall was originally released on it. Despite this, and somewhat amazingly, Towerfall grabbed the attention of many and became a popular choice for the vibrant Ouya community. But it wasn’t until the Ouya exclusivity deal expired and it was released on a real console the PS4 that Towerfall’s popularity really exploded. As cool as this little story is, it’s only part of the tale. Polygon did a great editorial on Matt and the developer house he lived in (very similar to the show Silicon Valley on HBO) while creating Towerfall. It’s a very interesting read which gives you some insight into how the game came into existence.
Now onto the game. First and foremost Towerfall is a retro game. It looks, plays, and feels like a good SNES game. Towerfall is also hard; hard in that same classic late 80’s early 90’s game like way. If you remember those days you’ll know what I mean. After playing Towerfall for an hour this is what struck me the most. It really felt like I was back in middle school hammering away on a SNES game. In Towerfall you play as one of four characters. All the characters play exactly the same and your choice of avatar is purely cosmetic. The game has you shooting enemies with a limited supply of arrows which you can pick back up after they have landed. You can also jump on enemy’s heads to kill them. There are different arrows and power ups to aquire which change the games dynamic pretty drastically. Watch the video below for a better idea of the game play.
I’m admittedly very late to the game here (pun intended) and due to the aforementioned reasons came with the preconception that Towerfall would be one of the greatest gaming experiences of my life. Well, unfortunately I can’t say it was; but it wasn’t the worst either. I first attacked Towerfall late at night after my wife and kid had gone to sleep. Alone I ventured out to defeat the quest mode and alone I failed miserably. My initial thoughts were, “Damn this game is tough” followed closely by, “Man I’m tired.” But I played on and completed a few boards on my own. At this point in my Towerfall experience it was safe to say I was less than impressed.
Fast forward several weeks. A friend of mine stopped by and we decided to have a few beers and play Towerfall with my wife half watching from the couch. Below is a retelling of what ensued:
Wife: “Wait a minute, what are you guys playing? Are those penis’s you’re shooting at each other?”
Me: “WHAT!” No, those are NOT penis’s we’re shooting, they’re arrows! Why would I be shooting penis’s and where would I get multiple penis’s to shoot anyway?”
Wife: “Dude (yeah we call each other dude), those look like penis’s. I think they are.”
Wife continues: “And why do you make little kissing sounds when your characters hit each other?”
Me: “I’m not making those kissing sounds, maybe he is but I’m not”
Friend: runs his character into mine and a kissing sound is emitted from BOTH of our controllers.
Me: “Stop kissing me dude. Get away from me.”
Friend: laughing, “Come over here sexy.”
Wife: “Which one is the girl?”
Me: “Well obviously he is. He’s the one wearing pink.”
Wife: “Nope, I think you are.”
Me: “No Fing way dude. I’m a mage or something. I have a hood on plus he’s wearing the pink outfit; I’m in black.”
Wife: “Nope, you are. Go back to the character selection and choose the same girl.”
Me: “GUY! OK fine but you’re wrong.” I then proceed to go to the screen and select the same character who promptly pulls back the cloak concealing the characters face to reveal… a girl.
Me: Noooo!!!! Wife and friend laughing…
This is just one example of the conversations had when playing Towerfall and is one of the reasons the game garnered such rave reviews.
You see, I had it all wrong the first time I played the game. This game is not designed as a single player game.
Yes it can be played that way but as a single player game I’d give it 2 of 5 stars. Where Towerfall really begins to shine is as a multiplayer experience. Towerfall can be played as a two player co-op game or as a 2 to 4 player death match in a Super Smash Brothers like experience. The gameplay is fast and unforgiving. The VS mode also has tons of match parameters you can set making each match different from the last. My friend and I played the co-op mode and although were often frustrated by the game’s difficulty we continued to play and have a good time.
Although I’ve yet to have a four player duel, I can see where this mode would be the most fun of all. I can imagine a house full of people, drinking beers and smoking… cigarettes. On the TV is a heated game of Towerfall. People are yelling and talking smack, players are coming and going. Man, it would be a good time. Unfortunately, those days are long gone for me and this brings me to one of Towerfalls most glaring deficiencies: the lack of online multiplayer support. Yes I know everyone complains about it but guess what… it SUCKS. You see the average age of gamers is increasing. Although we would love to hang out with the guys until the wee hours of the night playing games like the good old days… we can’t any more. We have responsibilities and stuff now. What can we do you ask? Well we can probably find an hour here or there and jump online for a quick game. But not in Towerfall. Oh well.
A Gamers Opinion:
Towerfall is essentially two games with two distinct ratings in one. As a single player game it’s somewhat weak. It’s not varied, long, or entertaining enough to keep me playing for long. As a multiplayer game though Towerfall shines. The big issue here though is the best part of the game is also the most limiting. Since multiplayer is a local only event this requires at lease two things that are hard to come by.
1. You need four or more people in one place with time to kill.
2. You need 4 PlayStation4 controllers. NO ONE owns four controllers so your friends will need to bring their own.
I can see Towerfall being a blast at frat houses, college dorms, or any other similar environment. Unsurprisingly, the development house where the game was created is one such environment. But for those of us not lucky enough to live in such a place, Towerfall just isn’t as much fun. Until an online multiplayer option is made available this games potential will only be realized by a small niche audience.
- Great party game
- Game is easy to pick up but hard to master
- Tons of variety in multiplayer matches
- Tons of replay value in multiplayer modes
- Weak single player experience
- Difficulty may scare some away
- Local multiplayer only