What, exactly, is Towerfall Ascension?
That's a great question, and one which many PS4 users have surely asked when browsing the PS Store the last few weeks. The artwork for the digital-only game does little to inform you as to what might await past the fifteen dollar buy-in. You should take the chance, though, because Towerfall Ascension is simply one of the best games on the PS4 to date, as long as you have friends.
The concept of Towerfall is simple. You and one to three of your friends take control of archers battling it out in a single screen arena. Getting shot with an arrow is a one-hit kill, but as an added complexity players can also jump on each other to get the kill. Battles play out in one of three ways: Last Man Standing, Headhunters, and Team Deathmatch. The battles don't play out much differently based on the mode you choose, but the path to victory varies based on each mode's rules. For instance, you'll only get credit in Last Man Standing if you are, well, the last one standing, while Headhunters credits you for every kill, but also takes away points for suicides. Depending on how many people you are playing with, one game mode may be more appealing than the others, but they all provide the same, outstanding gameplay.
The basic concept of one-hit kills provides a substantial amount of excitement from the get-go. Of course, there's more to a Towerfall match than meets the eye. Running or shooting out of any of the four edges of the screen simply loops you to the other side, meaning you have to watch your back at every moment. Beyond that, players can dodge and catch arrows using the dash button, you can shoot each others' arrows out of the air, and there's the aforementioned ability to jump on players to kill them. There are also customization options called variants that change everything from the type and frequency of drops to the effects on the environment you'll experience during a match. Even though matches may only last less than a minute, the depth added by these variants is immediately noticeable.
Towerfall: Ascension can be played alone in the Quest mode, which provides a steep challenge with no story, but even that is better played with friends. The ability to team-kill and steal each others' arrows make for a fun atmosphere even when the late game stages are constantly putting you down. Quest mode is highly recommended, but it isn't the reason you should be buying the game.
Towerfall: Ascension is at its best when you have a bunch of friends crowded around the television, exchanging not-so-niceties and developing rivalries. Perhaps this is why developer Matt Thorson chose to omit any sort of online play. It's hard not to think about how great the game would be online, and it would remove the admittedly steep cost of entry that is buying a second, third, and fourth controller if necessary. The game itself is only fifteen dollars, but extra controllers are sixty dollars a piece. That reason alone hurts the game, but it is the only significant issue the game has. If the circumstances are right, Towerfall: Ascension can be the best game you own for the Playstation 4.