Roguelikes are a staple in gaming. That being said, there tends to be an overflux of mediocre games that flood the scene in an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of the genre. However, for the most part, we have gotten a lot of iconic roguelikes that were revolutionary, engaging, or just straight-up good. Astral Ascent (developed by Hibernian Workshop) is one of the newer roguelikes to release and despite this, already feels like an iconic staple in the genre.
This 2D platformer is a rogue-lite with the ultimate goal being defeating 12 challenging bosses. You can play solo or co-op, controlling 4 unique heroes that you can personalize with the build of your liking. Many aspects of the game are filled with passion, love, and magic. The game feels alive and as a result, is able to immerse players inside its world pretty easily. That being said, this is our review of Astral Ascent.
Story – A Narrative Success
In video games, narrative is the main element that drives the story forward. Whether it be found narrative such as a collectible, or full-on cutscenes, narrative is always present. In Astral Ascent‘s case, they do a wonderful job in ensuring players immediately get immersed in their world. Upon starting the game, you are already getting introduced to what’s at stake, learning about The Garden and your objective to escape. However, doing so is not easy as you’ll have to take down 12 Zodiac bosses along the way.
The best thing about The Garden is that it is extremely populated and full of life, characters, and small little details. As a result, the narrative is littered across the entire place, making exploring it all that more rewarding. At the end of the day, gameplay-wise, this place is the ‘safe-haven’. The developers have done an excellent job at maintaining this sense of security, giving players a small break from all the action once they perish on their adventures. Speaking of breaks, there are areas in between levels (typically before boss fights) that allow players to take a breather. Not only that, but you are able to upgrade your character and enjoy some sweet pixel art.
Depending on the path you take and the character you choose, the way the story unfolds will be slightly different. This is a great way to increase replayability whilst simultaneously making the world feel larger than life. We know of the Zodiacs but we only get to interact with them initially via boss fights. This creates a sense of underlying danger when approaching one. There are many Gods and Guardians for you to meet and interact with throughout your journey, all having their own unique personalities, traits, motivations, and appearances. It’s safe to say, the narrative is definitely delivered in abundance in this game.
Gameplay – Rogue-lite Not Roguelike
Despite it sharing many traits with traditional roguelike games, Astral Ascent classifies itself as a rogue-lite. This means it implements a few roguelike features but ultimately switches things up a bit. A similar example of this is Hades and Dead Cells. The main gameplay loop revolves around journeying across different lands in order to reach (and ultimately defeat) the Zodiacs. However, if you die in combat, you will respawn in The Garden, having to start over the area until you beat the respective Zodiac. Thankfully, all of the enemies slain and experience gained remain, making for an easier second run. Eventually, you’ll become powerful enough and beat the Zodiac boss, usually by trial and error.
Magic and Spells
The combat in this game is not just slashing and dashing. Instead, we’re presented with 4 spell slots that can be switched around and customized. In order to obtain new spells, you can purchase them from The Garden or find them on your runs. In fact, there are a lot of collectibles scattered across the world that help boost your stats and abilities. Some of these include:
- Pavo’s Feathers: An item that increases a spell’s level (+20% damage) when equipped into that Spell. Can be obtained as a reward at the end of Exploration Rooms, or in Pavo’s Ruins.
- Gambits: Modifiers that player can put on their spells to add new effects to them. Can be obtained at the end of Exploration Rooms, in chests after defeating bosses, or purchased using Quartz.
- Auras: passive abilities the player can acquire during a run to enhance their abilities. Can be obtained in the Yalee Kingdom, at the end of Exploration Rooms, or in Zodiac Chests.
Of course, there are a lot more things to collect and explore but these are some of the main upgrades to keep an eye out for.
The main two currencies in the game are Quartz and Keys. Quartz can help you buy Gambits and other upgrades, while Keys help you unlock Astral Chests which can be found in Exploration Rooms. Unlocking an Astral Chest with one key gives you 10 Quartz, 1 Healing orb, and 3 Mana orbs. On the other hand, unlocking an Astral Chest with 3 keys provides you with a Stone Altar or an Aura. Stone Altars can also be found randomly in Exploration Rooms as allow you to choose one of the following upgrades:
Finally, Quartz can also be spent on Healing Shards. The first interaction costs 60 Quarts with each following purchase costing 40 more than the previous. This purchase can be made via Quiet Rooms, Andromeda’s Bar, or Exploration Rooms.
In order to reach a Zodiac boss, you first need to clear out a few rooms. There are two types of rooms, one being Fighting Rooms and the other being Exploration Rooms. Fighting Rooms consist of clearing hordes of enemies for rewards (generally Keys). On the other hand, Exploration Rooms focus more on platforming and adventuring, whilst also providing the player with a reliable source of Quartz and upgrades.
Players choose which of the rooms they want to tackle next, each being randomly generated. The enemy variety/count, obstacles, and rewards are all unique each time, adding to the overall replayability of the game. Not only that but depending on your character, you might want to prioritize clearing out a specific type of room over the other. As a result, you’ll find yourself constantly trying new tactics and strategies in different environments. This system works extremely well in ensuring players do not get bored of replaying the same area when stuck on a level. Furthermore, while replaying, you’re almost always guaranteed to stumble across something new, adding to the overall narrative impact of the game.
If that wasn’t enough diversity, the game has 17 unique endings! With the highlight being a boss fight against The Master once you’ve beaten all of the Zodiacs. It’s safe to say, you won’t be running out of things to do anytime soon.
Movement and Mana
In order to defeat all the Zodiacs, you must first master the combat style of the game. Of course, there are no wrong answers. However, you need to familiarize yourself with the mechanics in order to succeed. First, we’ve got the slash attack (L2) which when combined with the fluid movement, makes for some amazing mid-air combos. As previously mentioned, there are 4 spells. Each spell can be cast once until the other spells are cast then the cycle repeats. In order to cast said spells, you need Mana. However, Mana is extremely easy to recover as all you need to do is melee attack. As a result, you’re almost never stuck without a powerful move at your disposal. Instead, you can focus your attention more on dodging attacks and managing your health bar.
Despite all of the tools and abilities available, the Zodiacs prove to be ruthless boss fights with their own respective attacks. Do not underestimate just how difficult the combat is later on. It is always valuable to pay attention to upgrades and learn enemy attack patterns. Hopefully, by doing so, you’ll be able to escape The Garden and beat all 12 Zodiacs.
Art Style and Soundtrack – Magical
From the moment we booted up the game and stared at the bright and colorful main menu screen we knew this game was special. The art style is outstanding, making pixel art look all the more magical and vivid. The atmosphere of the game is already great due to how much narrative content is scattered throughout. However, the alluring art style helps make this game feel alive and vibrant. This is without mentioning the music, which is not only extremely fitting but also exceptionally well-composed. There are also new music including orchestral records and featuring vocalist Emi Evans!
Every aspect of the artistic direction was full of passion, creativity, and quality. As a result, we are presented with a game full of life, adventure, love, and dynamism. There aren’t a lot of games that feel as animated and high-spirited as this one. Below is the official soundtrack composed by Dale North.
That being said, this was our review of Astral Ascent.
Astral Ascent was reviewed on PC with a game key provided by ICO.