Monday 15 January 2024

Astral Ascent Review (Switch)


There’s a couple of genres on the Switch that most people would agree probably have enough games already. The rogue-like would certainly be one of those and there seems to be a new one released every week. But as Hades proved, there’s always room for one more when they can be put together in a way that engages and draws you back in time after time.

In keeping with Hades, Astral Ascent is also a story about trying to escape from a celestial prison. In this case it’s a sort of Garden of Eden guarded by 12 zodiac gods. As you progress through the game, you’ll find memory fragments for the different characters which will slowly unfold the link between the gods and why the various prisoners are trapped there.

In terms of the structure this works like pretty much every other action rogue-like. In this case each of the environments you need to get through consists of twelve relatively short levels with a boss at the end. Levels are classified as exploration, where you can treat them like assault courses and just find the exit, or fight based which normally enclose you inside a locked arena until all enemies have been defeated. If you are lucky, you’ll come across rest rooms and shops to help you as well.

Along the way you’ll acquire more skills and buffs until you inevitably hit something too strong and get sent back to the start to try and do it all again. In this case there are also a host of permanent improvements that you can unlock slowly along the way which grant you more strength, hit points and things such as mana and magic.

In terms of when you are in a run you can pick up add-ons for your various spells known as gambits. There are an absolute ton of different gambits and range from simple attack increases to adding elemental statuses or poison. Coupling these with your ever-increasing spells list means you have will eventually end up with a huge arsenal at your disposal to customise your attacking options. On top of this you can also pick up auras which add further buffs to your character.

There are four characters in total with two being available from the start. All of them approach combat in almost completely different ways but all share the core move set of a standard attack that can be used to create combo’s, a jump, a dodge, four single spells that once used gradually recharge and a special attack. So, you are well equipped for what’s to come. All this means that when you are facing the multiple hordes that are trying to take you down that you always feel in control of your own destiny and death is always due to players not reacting rather than any innate unfairness. That said, it did take at least an hour of banging against a relative brick wall to start make small chunks of progress and to get out of the first area will likely take much longer than that.

The visuals are done in a glorious pixel visual style that captures the heavenly vibe particularly well. As lovely as they are though they are very small on the Switch when it’s in handheld mode. We didn’t find any other performance issues aside from this but when porting to the Switch, in an ideal world, more consideration should have been taken regarding this. Even if the text size could have been changed it would have made things a lot easier.

Overall, Astral Ascent doesn’t really do anything new or anything particularly innovative but the game plays so beautifully well that it won’t really bother you. It’s one of the more hardcore and complex rogue-likes as well so there’s something for veterans to challenge themselves with. If you’ve got room for one more of these games, then Astral Ascent is a good one to fill the gap with.

Overall 8/10

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