Ascendance – First Horizon promises a tranquil and enigmatic platformer that sports mystery, intrigue, and emotion. Sadly, barely any of that pulls through due to a range of varying reasons. In fact, at best, this all comes across like a poor imitation of Refunct, and if you’ve played and enjoyed that, I would caution against setting your hopes too high for this. Whilst it’s fairly cheap in cost, and indeed the development team small, none of that, despite its seemingly interesting mechanic concept, excuses the game for its drawbacks.
There’s no story present, and instead from the main menu, you’re shoehorned straight into the game’s first world. There’s three worlds in total; Lapis, Ruinas, and Asticus. Though, to unlock the latter worlds, you’ll need to work through the prior worlds. Each world sports its own theme and design, with some decent details to soak up as you move through. The problem, however, is that a constant drop in framerate, together with poor lighting, makes it far too difficult to truly appreciate the splendor that each world desperately attempts to relay.
The soundtrack is another hit and miss affair, putting forward generic tracks that almost instantly lose traction. Not a very good first impression, then. Nevertheless, the crux of play remains the same throughout each world. The game takes place in first-person perspective, and you’ll start each world on a singular platform, with one node that you’re instantly able to interact with. Once you touch said node, other platforms will spawn in around you, with another node spawning in on top of that. This is how each world unfolds as you make progress.
You’ll touch a node, see more level pieces spawning in nearby another node, and then make your way over to that node as you rinse and repeat the process until the level’s end. Each world takes roughly fifteen minutes to run through, and there’s no real way that you can lose or fail due to the infinite amount of lives at your disposal. Should you fall from a platform, you’ll immediately spawn back in at the last node that you activated. There’s a layer of puzzle-play present through how you go about reaching every newly spawned node.
That being said, the answers as to how you reach new nodes are typically straightforward, and usually consist of using common sense and traversing across the newly spawned platforms that lead to the node you’re after. The game’s handling is surprisingly floaty, and at times, unresponsive. Several times I found myself missing a platform or falling off the edge of a platform, simply due to the overcompensated feedback. Throw in the previously alluded to framerate spikes, and you’ll firmly understand how frustrating this game can be.
Even turning direction can feel like a slog due to how slow and sluggish it feels. Given that the game focuses much of its play on platforming alone, this is absolutely unforgivable. The lack of fluidity really turns what could have been a serviceable spiritual journey into something way more irritating than it’s worth. The controls are relatively easy to adapt to. You’ll move with the thumbsticks, jump with the A button, and utilize a run feature via holding down LB. That’s that. These are the few tools you’ll religiously rely on throughout.
Each world sports a similar platforming framework; floating platforms, narrow platforms, jump pads, and so forth. You’ll run, jump, and bounce from place to place as you activate nodes to create new grounds. Eventually, you’ll finish building the world and will subsequently be sucked through a huge portal that feeds you into the next world. Once you’ve completed all three worlds, you’ll be taken to a special area to receive a unique choice-driven spiritual message that never really feels as though it was worth the trek.
If anything, I was more thankful that I had come to the end so that I could turn it off. It really is that boring, or, at least it is when it’s not rage inducing. I cant say that there was a single moment in which I found myself having fun. Don’t get me wrong, it was occasionally satisfying to finally reach a node that I was stuck on, but most of the times that I was stuck was due to technical issues rather than designed complexity. Moving platforms that you cant stand on because most of them move from under your feet? No, no thank you.
You’ll find a number of similar issues and poor design choices throughout; be it being bounced off the map, falling through it, or even sticking to it, there’s usually something that will piss you off in each world. Should you have the stomach for it, there’s some replay value to be had here. Each world houses a range of collectibles that you can pick up along the way, alongside objects that relay cryptic messages when you touch them. All in all, there’s two hours (or less) of play to be had if you’re looking to max the game out.
The bottom line in all of this is that if you’re simply looking for easy achievements, you’ll get your value here. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for the next Refunct, look elsewhere, because you’ll be sorely disappointed. The developer plans post-launch support, with a time mode to boot, and should they fix the aforementioned faults and push forward some refinement, this may well just about be a passable journey. Until then, I cant in good faith give this a recommendation. It’s shoddy, it’s messy, and it’s as dull as watching paint dry.
Ascendance’s short and seemingly peaceful journey is often hamstrung by its poor handling, and for a game that focuses its play on platforming alone, this doesn’t at all fare well. Furthermore, there’s a lot of framerate fluctuation to contend with alongside bad lighting, making it very difficult to appreciate the splendor that each world desperately attempts to relay. The whole affair just comes across like a cheap, shallow imitation of Refunct.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.