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Ascending Madness Preview

You are Merrick Starborne. You have been assigned a bounty by the Alpha Corp to assassinate the rogue scientist Skylar. But as you go about your mission you will be entered into a psychedelic world, combining Merricks past, present, and future.

Ascending Madness Preview

Introduction

Ascending Madness is a twin-stick shooter developed by Moxie Game Studios. Released onto Steam Early Access on Aug 8th, the game boasts a variety of weapons, challenging gameplay, and psychedelic themes. While there are a few of these points Moxie definitely nails, there is definitely room for improvement on others.

Ascending Madness is available on Steam Early Access for $9.99

Ascending Madness Announcement Trailer

Story

In Ascending Madness you play the role of Merrick, a rather amoral bounty hunter on a mission to kill a cult leader. At the beginning of the game, Merrick has a dream where he’s confronted by mysterious beings named Nature and Chaos. At key points in the game, you will hear messages from these beings, with one pushing a more gentle approach and the other a more violent one.

In its current state, the game is definitely more heavily focused towards gameplay than it is towards telling a story. What story snippets there are minimal, and the player would be more than able to get through the available gameplay while skipping cutscenes. What story there is in the game right now is a bit weird.

Ascending Madness Preview: Bosses can get pretty damn hard in this game
As things are it is a bit hard to draw conclusions on the story of the game, as it currently isn’t finished. For example, with the way Chaos and Nature interact with the player, you would think this game had some kind of moral choice system. But you really aren’t given any option in what your able to do in certain situations, (one key sample of this being when you have to torture info out of someone.)

Since the game isn’t completed yet, it could be such a mechanic hasn’t been implemented yet. Another possibility is that as the game progresses the story takes a whole other direction. At this point in development, all one can really do is speculate what will happen. That being said, it was still enough to capture my attention, if that means anything.

Gameplay

The game is a Twin-stick shooter, with support for controllers and a keyboard and mouse. Of the two I personally prefer the latter, but I didn’t find the difference between the two to be so great that I wasn’t able to manage with one or the other. One annoying thing I noticed was that even when you’re using a keyboard and mouse, some of the tutorials only list the controller buttons and not the right keys.

Ascending Madness Preview: Hope you like high scores
The game is based around dodging enemy attacks, shooting them down, and getting points. As you kill enemies a meter will build up, and each time it hits full a multiplier will be added to the player's score. Not killing enemies or taking damage will reduce the multiplier. Simply put, the more efficient you are at killing enemies, the better score you will get.

Ascending Madness Preview: Things get weird in this game
At the end of each level, you are given a score based on several factors, such as enemies killed, deaths, and completion time. Depending on what your final score is, you will get either a bronze, silver, or gold medal. From what I can tell Leaderboards are a planned feature in the game and could add motivation for players to go back to levels and get a better score.

One of the key features of the game is a variety of weapons available to the player. These include a basic blaster-type weapon, and alternate fires like a shotgun blast, a railgun, and a plasma launcher. The problem I found with a lot of these weapons is most of them have very limited uses in the game. The only one of these weapons I ever found a consistent use for was the Pulverizer, the shotgun weapon. The alternate fire weapons will require ammo, which can be picked up throughout the level or by killing enemies.

Ascending Madness Preview: This baby will carry you through most of the current game
Another feature the game has is the rune system. These runes can be found by exploring the level and will have various effects. These include an extra point of health, higher ammo cap for certain weapons, and more. Some of these are passive, while others can be activated via the space key, (RB trigger for controller). You can also gain extra rune slots by picking up items called skill points throughout the level.
 
One big issue I had with the gameplay came in the form of its movement. In the game, you control a ball and using the WASD keys you maneuver around the level. The issue comes through the games gravity mechanic. Because of this, precise movement in the game becomes incredibly difficult, which in a game where you need to be able to make quick reactions can be a bit of a death sentence, as well as making picking up health and ammo a nightmare.

Ascending Madness Preview: That would have been nice to know before the dying part
Another issue comes with some of the enemies in the game. While bigger enemies are fairly easy to deal with, the smaller ones can become nearly impossible to hit consistently. This isn’t a big issue at first, as the early enemies take one hit, but as you progress you’ll get a swarm of enemies chasing you across the screen while you struggle to get any hits in.

This also brings me to the issue with how you take damage in the game. First of all is that there are no invincibility frames in the game after taking damage. The main reason this becomes an issue is that of the way certain enemies attack. They will surround the player and ram into them, and after the introduction of a certain enemy type, this will essentially mean instant death, even from full health. As you can imagine, this gets incredibly frustrating, especially as more of these enemy types start to show up.

Graphics and Sound

The game has a psychedelic theme to it, which expands to both the music and the art style. The levels make heavy uses of dark purple and blue colors, adding to the surreal experience of the game. Enemies appear as weird alien creatures, with a lot of them having a bit of a skull motif. Overall things are fairly consistent but distinct.

Ascending Madness Preview: Some weapons will use the same ammo type
The music in the game is arguably its strongest point for me. The game mixes atmospheric techno alongside 70’s guitar to make a trippy experience. Even at its most frantic, the music is still relaxing to a certain degree. This is actually pretty important, as it eases some of the frustration one will have during the harder areas of the game.

Ascending Madness Preview: Water is a bit janky in this game...
There are a few technical issues that should be noted though. Mainly is that some of the sounds will cut out during gameplay, mainly the basic weapon fire. Some of the water effects used are also a bit janky. Nothing that can’t be fixed, but definitely something people will notice.

Conclusions

As things stand, Ascending Madness has a lot of promise to it. The gameplay, the movement, in particular, could use some tightening, as well as a few technical fixes, but the mix of an interesting theme and great music definitely help it stand out. I for one am excited to see how this game develops in the future.

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