Solar Ash is easily summed up if you think back to the memory of the Phalanx fight (The sky dragon colossus fight) in Shadow of the Colossus, and say: What if there was a whole game made about that particular fight? This is exactly what studio Heart Machine is trying to do with this new experience, by giving shape to this beautiful memory in amazing ways only achievable through the new generation hardware.
The game has a distinct art style that blends very well with the idea of a broken scattered world, and also fulfills its purpose in creating many challenging platforms for traversal with a great degree of verticality and vastness. On the other hand, Solar Ash is mainly a game about traversal first, and fighting second, unlike it’s predecessor, Hyper Light Drifter, which was focused mainly on the energy sword and it’s upgrades and expansions.
Solar Ash is now available on PS5 (Tested), PS4 and PC.
Solar Ash Review
In general, the stories of these platformer games are almost always detached from what actually happens on screen, like you find them talking about some really big issues and worlds, but all you are doing in the literal sense is running and jumping around. This is not exactly the case here as a mysterious black hole has consumed various worlds and incorporated many parts of what’s left of them to make it’s own unique biosphere.
Your mission is to look for and activate the “Starseed“, a device so powerful and capable of reverting the worlds to their proper state, after reverting into shadows of what they once were. Therefore, we embark on an Odyssey through the interconnected remaining realms, and use every mean at our disposal in order to figure out the best way to fulfill our purpose, while learning about a meaningful message by the end of everything.
A Seamless Experience
The mechanics also support of the philosophy of traversing through shattered dimensions. For those who have no patience to witness all of what this game has to offer, you need not worry because every technique at your disposal is available from the beginning, and without any upgrade paths or costs. What you see during the first hour is what you will be having during all four hours of your playthrough, with exceptions for the changing variety of the biomes and the unique boss encounters.
The movements available might appear basic at first, but that’s not the whole case. You are allowed to skate, dash, grapple, execute simple attacks, hold on to walls, grind on rails and teleport instantaneously to designated locations and enemies, but the difference is that all of this is designed to enable you to always be on the move in a continuous and seamless manner, without any reserves or second thoughts.
That’s what I think differentiates this game from the most. You are always on the path, You don’t have to think about anything, and every enemy you meet can be used as a step to push forward or adjust the trajectory of your jumps and dashes using grapple hooks and instant teleportation. Solar Ash is simply an experience that is fun to play all the time, and relies completely on your instinctive understanding of the mechanics above anything else.
Sky’s The Limit
I find it really amazing that it was able to stretch and strengthen this approach for four hours straight without the whole thing becoming stale, even during boss encounters. They are not actually fights per se, but more like these Sonic Adventure game bosses where you have to repeat a certain pattern for three times and you win. Only this time the pattern is about reaching the boss’s weak point, and not avoiding getting hit until that weakness appears.
You have to grab the tail or back end of each boss depending on its shape or form, and drag your self as fast as you can until the head piece where the weak point lies to deliver the killing blow. Each boss’s body type acts as a microcosm of platforming tests and challenges that you will have to figure out and and adapt to their varied approaches during the limited time you have on the backs of the 6-7 giants you will encounter throughout your journey.
The boss designs are very well done. They involve multiple instances of creative camera work and continue to provoke your inner instincts and latent awareness about how you approach the games you play and how you look at the elements on screen. As a matter of fact, because they are that great, the rest of the game dims in comparison, and the imaginative level design might end up a bit on the repetitive side because not many new elements are being introduced on a regular basis.
Much of the enjoyment you will be having stems from the differences in design approach between biomes (there are also 6 or 7 of them to visit), and how each of them encourages you to implement new choreographs and move in rhythmic and elegant beats, though I would argue that not many of them look that visually distinct from each other apart from a certain stage midgame that completely shifts the lighting and the color palette into much more darker and deeper tones similar to how The Artful Escape did it.
Solar Ash is a not an experience that is overflowing with support for the DualSense’s Haptic Feedback, and thought loading times and activity cards work well, and there are no technical issues to speak off, we think more could have done for a game that totally relies on player input and immersion. There are also not many side exploring opportunities despite there being a resemblance of semi open worlds, and it’s mostly a linear experience overall.
There are four difficulty levels in this game, and each of them decrease the time you are allowed to spend on certain traversal areas and boss encounters, and with the Hardcore mode there won’t be any room for mistakes or fumbles. You will have to make every move count and keep skating all the time without any margin for logical thinking or decision making, you will have to heighten your senses and be completely immersed in your goal and you you move towards it, and play with a clear mindset.
The Story, while it does start with some amazing concepts that defines the world and it’s rules, I never found myself interested in what’s yet to come or the conflict between the main characters, and that’s why the later reveals and the meaning the writer tried to imply through the narrative ended up barren and empty, and again, I never felt the need to care about anything more than the main gameplay approach.
Solar Ash is a very unique and enjoyable platforming experience, and could easily be one of my top 5 recommendations for those wanting to get into this specific genre, especially because of it’s amazing accessibility and outstanding audiovisual design, but I feel that it could have been so much more than the sum of its part, if more time was spent on making the biomes more varied and if more support for next gen controllers was considered.
- Original Biosphere and Comfortable Color Palettes
- Many Traversal Options Available from the Start
- Outstanding Boss Encounters that reward Intuitive Players
- Not Much Incentive for Replayability or Dualsense Support
- Platforming Sections become Stale and Repetitive after a Short While
- Going off the Beaten Track doesn't amount for much