Sometimes I don’t want to start a new narrative-based game, learn the mechanics of resource management or simulation games, or brutally murder NPCs out of necessity or pleasure; I sometimes just want a game I can play casually. Ascendance is a simple game about making your way to an Orb in order to reveal the next Orb you must make your way towards, all whilst surrounded by colourful low-poly aesthetics and an enchanting soundtrack. However, there’s a fine line between relaxation and raging as things aren’t as easy as they first appear.
Despite the frustration this game has caused me, It’s currently my go-to game when I’m waiting for food to cook, I’m installing another game, or when the adverts are on during a show I’m watching. For some strange reason, its hypnotic and addictive gameplay has me hooked and I’m finding it very hard to let go. Let’s find out why…
Although the world of Ascendance runs on a very simple concept (reach an Orb then move on to the next), it’s so much easier said than done. Spanning over the course of three visually vivid and contrasting worlds, the game has been cleverly designed to offer a challenge as well as encourage exploration with almost no hand-holding or guidance throughout. As such, I can’t recall how many hours I’ve spent working my way through the content currently on offer and I’m only just up to the third stage!
However, don’t let the low number of levels put you off, the store page advises that more levels and mechanics are coming in a future update and I’m inclined to believe the developer as they’ve already delivered something they promised me upon launch – an invert y-axis option. Technically, the game came out around seven weeks ago but I was finding it almost impossible to play due to two factors; the speed in which you move and look was far too slow and there was no invert option present within the game. Now we have both an invert toggle and a slider to adjust the sensitivity, thus making the game much more accessible for me and it shows the developers are listening to feedback.
In regards to the controls, Ascendance is about as basic and family-friendly as you can get. You play in first-person with the ability to run, jump and look around – that’s it. No shooting, no special moves, no dodging, just simple controls which everyone can pick up and play within seconds. I highly recommend you crank the sensitivity up in the options menu though as the default setting makes looking around very slow. I can see why this is the case, as it matches the slow nature of the game in general and fits the design perfectly, but for me, it felt like I was wading through porridge before I increased the setting.
The platforming and level design of Ascendance is what makes it stand out as a cool indie title with a great concept behind it. When you’re first dropped within one of the levels, there’s a very small playing field for you to explore as you search for the elusive Orb and hidden Parcels. However, as soon as you find the Orb, another piece of land will materialise somewhere within the vicinity as you look around. Early on this may just be another flat plain with another Orb just sat there; yet later on, expect tall structures with moving platforms.
After you’ve collected about five or six Orbs, the small piece of land, which is above an insta-kill liquid, will have expanded into a rather big maze-like structure. This is where the game gets tricky as you have to look around and work out how you can reach the next Orb by utilising the existing structures and those which have just appeared. This may sound simple, but trust me, it isn’t. You’ll find yourself having to use a combination of moving platforms, trampolines, leaps of faith, and pixel-perfect jumps in order to reach your goal.
Death isn’t the end though, as there are no continues and no lives, you simply respawn at the last Orb you activated. This is both great and annoying as sometimes the last Orb you obtained is now on the other side of the environment to where your next one is, meaning you have to try to reach the next one over and over again, as you inevitably fail over and over again… This brings me to the only complaint I have about the game in general…
There’s no tutorial, no on-screen hints, and no button config in the options menu. Why is this important? Because for the first few hours I didn’t even realise you could hold down the Left Shoulder Button in order to run at a much faster pace and gain more momentum as you jump. So, I was wondering why I kept falling to my death as I tried to make the seemingly impossible jumps, this was simply because it was impossible without utilising the running mechanic.
I love the fact there’s no narrative and no underlying story to concentrate on, I have enough games for that when I crave it, but a simple popup advising it’s L to run and B or R to jump would have been welcomed. Also, it may not be too clear what your objective is at times, as my mother got really confused due to not picking up on what was going on around her and what was triggering it. As I said, the concept is simple – collect an Orb in order to make the next one, along with its platforming structures, appear. You can easily see where the next Orb is by looking for a beam of light in the sky which is resonating from the next one for you to collect. Again though, this isn’t advised at any point.
Similarly, there are two other objects you’ll run into eventually, Parcels and floating Diamonds on pedestals. The Parcels seem to be collectables that display a word at the bottom of the screen as it shows you how many you’ve collected, and the Diamonds presents you with a quote or phrase. I’m not quite sure what the purpose of these are but I imagine they are just collectables and simple narrative, respectively.
Ascendance looks stunning on the Nintendo Switch’s small screen (I only use mine as a handheld unit). The contrast between the colours of the sky, platforms and deadly liquid is perfect, with each one clearly standing out thanks to their low-poly single-coloured design. This also helps the game in the performance area as well because I didn’t notice any issues with performance throughout the many hours I’ve played with it so far. I do have to commend the developers for the water textures though – I’ve never seen a moving body of water that is created out of low-poly coloured shapes, it’s so hypnotic and mesmerising.
In terms of the music, the developers have been smart and placed some smooth, calm, relaxing music within the game. I say this is smart because the game can get pretty frustrating if you’re not that good at 3D platformers, or even if you are but you’re having a bad day! Thankfully there’s no penalty or in-game counter showing you how many times you’ve died as mine would be a lot!
Thanks to the developers giving us the inverted y-axis and sensitivity slider options, I have no obvious issues with the game at all anymore. Although, the options menu does label the look sensitivity as “look sensibility”. Also, the menu controls themselves are a bit strange – you move a mouse-like cursor around the screen really slowly, rather than just directly flicking between the options with the Control Stick or D-Pad – which is a bit unusual.
Personally, when I first started playing Ascendance almost eight weeks ago, I felt like the game had a lot of promise and potential but the controls were putting me off as I’m hard-coded to only play games with an inverted y-axis. I even obtained the NACON Revolution Unlimited Pro controller for my PS4 recently because it can invert the y-axis at a hardware level in games that don’t support it! So, I had to shelve the game whilst I awaited the patch I was advised was on the way. Once the patch landed, The game felt so different, not just because the controls had been altered, but I began to fully appreciate and enjoy what I was playing without getting frustrated at being unable to look in the orientation I wanted to look in.
Since then, I’ve been playing the game on and off for at least four or five hours so far, taking breaks when I become frustrated or unable to work out the path I need to take. It’s a great game for short-bursts here and there as it’s very fast to load, it autosaves whenever you get to a new Orb, it doesn’t require remembering a long backstory, and literally, anyone can press play and instantly know what they’re doing. Sure, only having three levels in the base game may ‘seem’ like a lack of content, but it’s about quality, not quantity, and Ascendance has been built with quality in mind with its creative platforming, beautiful vistas, and puzzle-like gameplay.
As a side note, the store page does say more content is coming in the future, so I can’t wait to see what the developers add to the game – it’s also very cheap!
If you’re looking for a calm, relaxing, peaceful platformer, Ascendance ticks all the boxes. Set within three very distinct and stunning low-poly levels, watch as the world around you expands upon grabbing the Orbs after traversing the fiendish platforming. Combining the perfect music along with the colourful visuals helps to deliver a very surreal and enchanting experience which anyone of all ages can pick up and play without any issues or skill requirements.
- - Very relaxing and hypnotic
- - Soothing music to keep you calm
- - Interesting mechanics with an environment which grows the more you explore
- - Has recently been updated to allow you to invert the y-axis
- - It looks like more levels may be on the way!
- - Despite being calm and relaxing, the jumping can be a bit frustrating as some require great accuracy
- - Whereas no tutorial or handholding is great, there's no info on basic controls and the aim of the game (although it's not that hard to figure out both)
- - The menu controls are a little strange, with a virtual mouse-like cursor.