Release Date:February 28, 2010
Summary:Hurl yourself out of the nether regions of the planet by using your tractor beam to latch onto dangerous mines and, hopefully, toss yourself in a constant upward projectile. Confusing, confounding, and utterly captivating.
It took me ages to figure out Ascent, a new game by SpareTime Apps that will certainly fill up whatever spare time you have – and, as in my case, start to invade your work time as well. It’s a brilliantly conceived game, once you over come the head-scratching beginning, and now that I’ve become an ace in the game, I’m intent on actually making it out of the earth’s center, hopefully extending through the cloudy skies and into the stratosphere and beyond. Stratosphere, what? Okay, you might still be scratching your head a bit.
The game is one of carefully calculated maneuvers, coupled with feline reflexes, a predictive range of sight, and just some general know-how when it comes to pendulum swings and the ensuing momentum and velocity. Sound intriguing? Well, it’s not quite that in depth, but it’s still really engaging, and does employ some of the aforementioned characteristics. The game opens, without warning, to a scene of magma encrusted rocks with gray spheres dotting the screen at random locations, with your ascent ball centered at the bottom. The music is melancholy sci-fi, swimming in a thudding, murky mystery, and getting you lost in the ether – it’s an odd combination with the game’s setting, but somehow works at getting you more engrossed. At first, it might take you awhile (less, though, now that you’re reading this review) before you figure out that your ball takes ascent by latching, by magnetic tractor beam it seems, to the randomly assorted gray balls that hover onscreen. According to the tutorial – a tutorial that actually makes the game easier to understand, unlike most games – these gray balls are mines, currently unarmed. To ascend to the upper echelons of the the magma filled center of earth, and then beyond, you must hoist yourself up with the assistance of these mines, taking care to let go, after building the proper momentum, so you can fling yourself away from any proximity to the mine, to avoid colliding with it. Why? Because once you grapple onto a mine, that particular mine becomes armed, and we all know what happens to an armed mine once touched – KABLOOIE! Should you ever forget that mines are dangerous, the game reminds you by affixing a giant, red, warning target around the mine in use. Yes, I highly recommend not touching any mines, if you can help it, otherwise it’s game over, and start from the bottom again you must. To make matters more difficult, there is more than one kind of mine, because mines that simply explode upon contact, apparently, isn’t interesting enough for both the consumer and developer. No, there are mines that fall once you attach to them, mines that aren’t affected by your grapple, mines, thankfully, that give you a much needed upward boost, and mines, even, that will chase you for a bit after using them. Scary. Power-ups will help you in your route, things like Sticky Ascenders that make your ball stick to the wall, and Ascender Shields that protect you from explosions.
Based on this convoluted description, you may be leery of the game, thinking it too confounding to handle. Well, trust me, it is a difficult game – I have yet to see any scenescape other than the magma fields – but it’s well worth your time, and yes, even frustration. Ascent could very well be the most captivating, simple game I’ve come across, and this is no small feat to accomplish. It has all the addictiveness of Doodle Jump, with just as much difficulty, requiring you to develop a keen awareness of the sensitivity of your every move, your every decision. The movements are fluid, and the physics realistic – depending on the velocity of your ball’s upward projectile, you may find that grappling onto the a faraway mine may result in your ball crashing at the bottom, the downward momentum too much for your stretchy tractor beam to handle, and your weight bearing too much a load on the mine, gravity pulling it down with you (not all of them are statically positioned). It’s a bit like a bungee cord, your tractor beam, so you would be wise to think in terms of relative distance and how it affects your speed. Then again, don’t always rely on using nearby mines because you may just underestimate the speed at which you’re pulled toward them, resulting in a surprising collision and game over. Ascent certainly keeps you on your toes, and that is its most compelling feature.
Well, that and you’re playing as a geodesic ball hurtling through the nether regions of the planet by magnetic fields surrounding mines. That’s pretty compelling, too.