When it comes to fighting monsters, there’s nothing more satisfying than watching your super human avatar carve a swathe through a horde, skilfully dispatching the group as if each slain foe is a giant middle finger to the game’s attempts to stop you. As it turns out, Ascendant ticks off this checkbox with its 2D side scrolling beat ‘em up action gameplay which is as satisfyingly difficult as it is pleasant to watch, as we found out last year.
The game has you assume command of one of several demi-god creatures with the express intent to invade another world and slay its inhabitants. To what purpose or motivation you have isn’t explained, but when you’re a supercharged foe-slaying god that can travel across planes of existence sometimes context just has to stand aside and let you do your business.
Most of your time will be spent traversing the interconnected chambers of each world, with the express goal of finding the boss chamber and slaying whatever random beastie is found within. Each play through is subject to a randomly generated layout, which means you’ll probably never experience the same world composition twice. Entering a chamber locks down all exits, and the only way to continue on your merry way is to dole out a healthy dose of beat-down against the unfortunate souls that stand in your way. Interspersed between the random mob zones and the final boss area are a number of side rooms that can contain chests with new weapons, challenge zones that grant extra health or magic spells, and the occasional shop to spend any tokens you may have gathered after pounding them out of your enemies. Some of these extra zones are more useful than others though, with the shop especially proving to be the biggest waste of time. Items within the shop are incredibly inflated considering the small amount of currency tokens that do decide to drop from fallen enemies.
Luckily these extra zones are more of a distraction than a necessity, with combat taking centre stage and providing the most fun you could have slamming green alien kobold creatures into the closest surface. Every character has access to two attack types, the first being the normal attack which acts as your bread and butter go-to for fighting. This allows you to attack multiple times in quick succession, eventually whittling away your opponent’s health and making them vulnerable to your strong attack. When an enemy is weak enough, you can employ this strong attack as a finishing blow which launches them off in a direction, usually hurtling towards a wall or another enemy. It’s a simple combat flow but by not complicating things too much, there’s plenty of enemy nuance to grab your attention which requires you to think when you’re fighting. Simpler enemies will mostly just stand there and take your punishment, but progress further along and the monsters will start to become wise to your shenanigans, using shields and ranged attacks to thwart any hopes of button mashing you might have. That’s when the counter ability comes into focus. Counters allow you to completely negate an incoming attack and redirect it back towards the source, usually dealing out a powerful killing blow as a result. However, misjudge the timing on your counter and you’ll be left fully exposed to the full force of that incoming attack.
When you do finally make it to the end of a level, one of several boss monsters will greet you with their hulking bodies. Each boss requires you to do something different to take it down, and learning each one’s weakness is key to progressing. The giant monkey king for example, starts by lauding over you in his tower whilst an army of minions try to pound on you below. The tactic here is to weaken his minions and then launch them towards his wooden tower until it slowly tips his lordship out into the open, where you can begin to dole out some sweet sword based justice straight into his simian face. As boss battles go, these tend to be quite simple. The mechanics of each boss are easy to learn, and once you’ve downed the giant centipede ten times it becomes much less dangerous, and as a consequence, much less interesting. Because of the nature of the game and the repeated interaction with these bosses, they start to feel less like epic fight sequences and more like bite-sized encounters.
Ascendant feels like a game that understands what makes combat fun, and when you do get locked into combat fighting against these enemies, it just feels right. There’s a great deal of fluidity to each skirmish, and you’re expected to use every trick in the book to get by because the game won’t hold back when it comes to punishing mistakes. When you do fail – and you will – all of your progress is forever lost to the digital ether, so by incorporating these roguelike tendencies death becomes the ultimate punishment. This is going to aggravate some players, especially if you’re more into your fighting games than your roguelikes, and when you do fall it can be quite exacerbating to know that you have to fight through all of those weaker enemies again to get back to where you were.
As brawlers go, Ascendant is certainly one of the more polished entries I’ve played. The combat is satisfyingly aggressive whilst keeping things simple enough to focus on more engaging aspects like timing and reaction-based play. I would strongly advise anyone considering getting the game to make sure you have a gamepad to play on though as the fast-paced gameplay doesn’t lend itself well to a mouse and keyboard control scheme. With that said, if you enjoy fancy flourishes of sword play and the roguelike mantra of procedurally generated singular playthroughs then Ascendant is right up your alley.
This game was reviewed using a copy provided by the developer for that purpose.
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