Solar Ash is all about how you traverse across the environment, elegantly skating across the clouds, leaping, and jumping as you go. Paired with the fantastic movement mechanics are puzzle sequences and huge boss fights, which remind me of Shadow of the Colossus. Solar Ash from the same development team that brought us Hyper Light Drifter, and while the game doesn’t quite live up to the hype of Heart Machine’s previous titles, it’s a grower that you’ll enjoy the more you play.
The world is vivid in color. Pinks, purples, and deep reds scatter the landscape as you glide across it. However, there’s something not quite right with the world, as it’s covered in corruption. Rei, the main protagonist in the game and the being you control throughout, has to rid the world of the corruption and find clues pointing to where the other Void Runners have gone. Partnering with the corruption are huge Anomalies, giant beasts roaming the broken lands and we have to save the day.
Solar Ash is similar in a few ways to Hyper Light Drifter. The colors are bright and pop from the screen, although Solar Ash is played in the 3D space rather than the 2D pixel art of Heart Machine’s previous game. A major difference this time is the dialogue and story. Last time we hardly had anything at all, but in Solar Ash, the characters are voiced, plus there are plenty of other story and audio logs to find scattered around the place, which builds up the world and characters nicely.
You play as Rei, a Void Runner who’s traveled inside a black hole called The Ultravoid and it’s up to you to find out what happened to the rest of the Void Runners. AS well as finding out what happened to your buddies, you have to restart a piece of technology called The Starseed, which should hopefully close the black hole and save Rei’s planet from certain destruction. To do this you have to solve puzzles in various areas and defeat the Anomalies.
The gameplay in Solar Ash is all about action-platforming. It’s played from the 3rd personal perspective and you can run and jump as standard. You also have the ability to skate around the environment at the press of a button, which means you instantly gain speed and can glide across the surface with ease. You also have a grappling hook that allows you to connect to targets and traverse across the environments with relative ease. Rei in motion feels great in the game, and it’s similar to what an open-world Sonic The Hedgehog could feel like. At a moment’s notice, you can put on your skates and you’ll get a burst of speed, which makes traveling distances in the game feel very good indeed.
The game is split into three modes – you have the puzzles and platforming where you are trying to figure out how to get to a hard-to-reach location. Then you have the combat against tough little enemies. Finally, you have the boss battles which will test your skill and timing to the extreme.
The platforming and puzzles do offer up a reasonable challenge. You do have a handy compass on your wrist which allows you to scan at any moment to give yourself a reminder on where to go. Even though you have a reminder on where to go that doesn’t mean getting there is going to be easy. This is going to involve skating, jumping, probably climbing up some black goo until you get there.
The small enemies may be small, but they pack a serious punch. There are arachnid-like creatures that scurry towards you very fast, often shooting our projectiles or lasers in your direction. Make sure to repair your shields at your companion in each level. I didn’t realize I had to do this until the 3rd area, which means I was severely depleted when it came to my energy, which translated into 2 hits and I was dead. Enemies are diverse, tricky, and full of surprises, so keep your eyes peeled.
The smaller enemies are only really the starter to the anomaly main course. The main objective of each zone is to unlock the boss battle and then use a combination of platforming, speed, and traversal to defeat these huge beasts. The first one in the training area is nice and simple to get you eased into things, it’s only when you face The Forgotten Thresher in the second area that you understand what the game is all about. This is where Solar Ash shines. I would say if you play the game, at least play the game until you beat The Forgotten Thresher. I’ve seen some feedback from other players on Solar Ash saying the game was boring, but personally, I didn’t find this to be the case.
Once you unleash the anomalies into the area, you have to grapple onto them and start the traversal. They tend to have 3 phases, each more difficult than the last when it comes to timing, dashing, and attacking. it’ll probably take you a few goes but this is a really good example of getting into the flow state of a game. At first, the controls feel a little cumbersome, but after a few goes, you’ll get into the rhythm. I let out an audible yell when I beat this boss, it was that satisfying. Until that point, I was starting to lag on the game and wondering if I was going to continue, but I am really glad I did, and I’ve been chasing that feeling again and again in Solar Ash since. Any game that can draw out emotions like that is a good one in my book.
As well as the excellent boss battles there are plenty of items to collect too. You have suit upgrades and audio logs. The suit upgrades include increasing damage or reducing the boost cooldown, various helpful upgrades that are going to help you out in the latter parts of the game. The audio logs are a nice touch, although the story and lore do feel a little confusing and dense. There’s so much of it. While I appreciate the work put in, it did feel a little dense and I would have loved to see more of this in-game, rather than a side feature.
Solar Ash is a mixed bag of a game. On one hand, you have a great feeling, fluid movement, and exciting boss battles. On the other hand, there’s the dense lore, and sometimes frustrating movement quirks, which can lead to an early death if you are not pinpointed in your execution. Overall I’m more positive about the game than negative, plus I am happy to see Heart Machine put out another game after the wonderful Hyper Light Drifter. It feels like a trend we’re about to see a lot of with Solar Ash, then we have Forspoken coming next year followed by the new Sonic game. If the new Sonic game feels as good as Solar Ash, then I think there’s going to be a lot of happy gamers.
Developer: Heart Machine
Publisher: Anna Purna Interactive
Platforms: PC (Epic Games Store), PlayStation 4/5
Release Date: 2nd December 2021