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Ascender – Review (alpha)

Embark on a quest to the city of Goa, the world below! Assume the role Sky, a small but persistent exploration robot as he traverses a beautiful (and dangerous) world in service to his creator, Professor Toro Hudo. Sky must aid the professor and his foster daughter, Ocean Hudo, a young, limbless girl who had fallen from the clouds when she was only and infant. Solve puzzles, complete quests for townsfolk, and explore Goa in this mythic/science fiction adventure!

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Ascender is a side-scrolling, platforming/adventure/puzzle solver currently being developed by GameChanger, a new indie game development team based in Indonesia. Although being new, they've shown some exceptional promise with Ascender. I was lucky enough to be able to play the newest version of the game's alpha (the 0.2.1 build) and it was pretty interesting, but still clearly under development. I will admit that I had some trouble with it in the beginning, but that was only because I was impatient, and didn't pay enough attention to what the controls were. After I knew how to move around, however, Ascender became pretty fun. Possessing the basics of any platformer, with a quest-based progression system, and an intriguing art style, Ascender offers an adventure reminiscent of games long forgotten.

The Story  
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Okay, the story is, by far, one of the most compelling and enigmatic elements this game has. It puts the player in a world unfamiliar and fantastic. Combining elements of science fiction and fantasy, with some steampunk mixed in, Ascender's atmosphere is both beautiful and gritty. The city, Goa, feels like a once prosperous civilization, that is decaying, but still manages to feel strong and industrious. You play as Sky, a seemingly minuscule, bipedal AI built and programmed by Professor Toro Hudo. Sky's sole purpose is to find parts for Toro's foster daughter, Ocean, a young girl who fell from the clouds. She is probably one of the most depressing characters in the game. She always appears so cheerful and excited with her big, blue eyes and her bright, blonde hair, even though she was born without arms or legs. The overall goal of the game is to find parts for a kinetic system so that, eventually, Ocean will be able to walk about with synthetic limbs. The game starts with Sky's birth, being introduced to Ocean and Prof. Hudo. He is then given his directive, after, of course, going through some testing (the tutorial). I found it rather cool how Ocean is visually linked to Sky through her computer , due to the fact that she is constrained to a chair. The world is linear, for now, being only a straight shot left or right with some terrain that can be traversed here and there. There are a few characters to talk to and items to find, but I'll get to all of that…

The Gameplay  

Ascender plays like a variety of different games. There are some clear platforming mechanics (running and jumping) and some exploration that consists of walking from objective to objective, along with occasionally mingling with some of the inhabitants for some exposition or maybe just a side quest. Progression in this game revolves around completing objectives, returning to Toro and Ocean, and collecting "Runes" in order to get to certain areas or to solve puzzles. "Runes", as they are called, are essentially upgrades for Sky. In the beginning of the game, Sky kind of sucks. he can walk and jump…that's it. However, after finding some runes he becomes much more fun to play as. The rune system is actually kind of cool. So, to break it down, each rune possess a certain size and shape that must be able to fit into Sky's ability slot. The player can rotate and manipulate a rune to fit in a certain way so that multiple runes can be equipped. Unfortunately, some runes cannot be used with each other. If there are two, big runes, the odds of them both fitting in Sky's slot is slim…

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Runes can allow Sky to run faster, double jump, or even project a "light hook" that can be used to scale once unreachable areas. These runes, once they are found as floating items, can be selected and managed in directories scattered throughout Goa, allowing Sky to change his abilities when needed. I had a little difficulty with figuring out how the rune system worked, and became rather frustrated with not being able to get the runes I wanted equipped, but after some fiddling with the controls, I eventually found out how it works. Now, the puzzle solving relies heavily on the selected runes. These puzzles, so far, consist of moving boxes, pulling levers, and swinging from place to place with the light hook. I noticed that the physics are well defined in this regard, for the player will have to swing a certain way in order to reach certain areas. Each item that can be moved can also be effected by these physics, reacting differently if pushed from an alternate angle. It doesn't effect the gameplay all that drastically, I just found it to be kind of cool. There is no real combat system, but I guess that would feel out of place. Sky is a thinker, not a fighter. That is actually why I like the game: you must think your way out of a scrap. The player will find it easier to outrun an enemy than fight one, not that there are regular enemies walking about or anything…yet.

The Art

The style and feel of Ascender's art, if not occasionally blotchy, is phenomenal! The 2D format of the game allows for the background and environmental objects to have a good amount of hand drawn detail to them. The aesthetic dedication to the world as a whole is just awesome. The semi-obscure futuristic machines and the design of some of the buildings can feel rather absurd at times, yet still feasible and practical. The colors can range from harsh to dull, and bright to dim. There isn't a whole lot of a breath taking artwork seen in the alpha, but I'm sure there is going to be a plethora of new environments once the game is finished! 

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The Conclusion. For Now…

Ascender's alpha, although being about a half-an-hour to an hour long, was a journey on its own. Even with its simplistic parkour, straightforward navigation, and some pretty basic side quests, Ascender still managed to find its way into my heart. The feeling of the game's story and world, not to mention the atmospheric soundtrack, was just so cool that I could't help myself from loving this game. I did become a little annoyed once in a while, but the pros far outweigh the cons. I can't wait to see what the game will look like once it's finally complete. If you want to give Ascender a try, you can download the alpha here!    


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