TowerFall Ascension review: bowstring symphony

TowerFall Ascension is never not fun.

Game Info
Platform Win, PS Vita, PS4
Publisher Matt Makes Games
Developer Matt Makes Games
Release Date Mar 11, 2014

It's tricky to write about TowerFall Ascension without sounding like a child — mostly because it's a powerful distillery of childlike glee.

I can say, without an ounce of hyperbole, that I have never shouted, cheered or laughed so much playing a game in my life. TowerFall Ascension is designed to evoke these reactions in every single match, and it always, always does. Regardless of how its settings and variables have been tinkered, or the relative skill levels of its players, the matchup is exciting and dynamic every single time.

For those unfamiliar with the original version, which launched on Ouya last year, TowerFall is a multiplayer-centric 2D arena game. Players take on the role of archers, and attempt to dispatch one another using either their bow and arrow or a well-placed head-stomp. Archers can also dodge in any direction on the ground or in the air, letting them dash out of the way of danger or, if performed with split-second timing, catch an incoming arrow.

the matchup is exciting and dynamic every single time

Those simple core mechanics can shake out in so many different ways in a brawl, which is part of TowerFall's brilliance. In the span of a few seconds, you can snatch a volley of arrows out of the air, return them to sender, dash onto the head of another foe and fire a miracle shot across the stage to take out a third. Occurrences that exciting aren't even rare; in fact, they happen in basically every match.

TowerFall has been favorably compared to Super Smash Bros., which is apt in more ways than one. Power-ups can throw curveballs into the mix, changing your arrows into explosive darts, environment-piercing drills or bouncing lasers. There are dozens of variables you can apply before starting a match, letting you tailor (and save!) custom multiplayer gametypes. Everything, from the number of arrows players start with to the power-ups that spawn in the match, is there to adjust.


Party modes

TowerFall Ascension's replay value is bolstered significantly by the multiplayer variants, which you can adjust and save to one of three slots for later use. Here are just a few of the options that have been huge successes on game night:

Start players with just one arrow, forcing them to pick their shots wisely and scavenge arrows around the battlefield.

Start players with six Drill arrows, which can burrow through walls and floors, leaving no safe inch of space in the level.

Turn off arrows entirely and turn on Super Dashes, sending players flying into the air as they try to jump on each other's heads.


Each adjustment, each combination gives rise to a variety of jubilant moments. When you think you've seen it all, something happens — a laser arrow trick shot, a Super Bomb multi-kill — that shatters your expectations. It's genuinely thrilling every time it happens, and TowerFall smartly lets you save your replays as animated GIFs with a single button press.

The game's lack of online multiplayer certainly makes it harder to get four archers in a match together. But schmaltzy as it may sound, when shared with a roomful of friends, TowerFall nights can be an unforgettable affair.

Ascension does add a few solo options to the game, however, including "Trials" mode, a refined version of the original's target practice levels. Each Trial is set up like a miniature puzzle, tasking you with using the game's power-ups to clear a screenful of targets in just a few seconds. It's a good tutorial for the game's additions, and a surprisingly compelling score-chaser, to boot.

The biggest addition by far is the game's Quest mode, which turns each of TowerFall's multiplayer stages into a Horde-esque survival challenge. One to two players have to hold off waves of increasingly deadly AI enemies while trying to stay alive and chain together kill combos.

The new modes are surprisingly addictive, and a welcome option when getting a group of friends together just isn't possible. But, polished as they may be, they're ultimately the supporting cast to the game's competitive offerings. It's not that the Quest and Trials modes are lacking in quality; it's that the multiplayer, and its toy box full of variables, possesses the stuff in unparalleled quantities.

Wrap Up:

TowerFall Ascension is never not fun.

It's incredibly hard to make a game as great as TowerFall Ascension is in its finest moments. But that's not what sets the game apart as the new gold standard in the local multiplayer renaissance — it's the fact that no matter how you play it, TowerFall Ascension is never not fun.

TowerFall Ascension was reviewed using final retail code provided by the publisher. You can read more about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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