Solar Ash Review – mxdwn Games
The Synthwave aesthetic is mostly seen in cyberpunk games, giving a glimpse of the neon-colored future that supposedly awaits us in the next century. While it might be a bit campy and over the top, the futuristic landscapes with that ever-present fluorescent aesthetic tend to be one of my favorite parts of the genre. When done well, it adds a certain flair that makes everything pop, rather than just serving to highlight certain elements. This, when combined with absolutely psychedelic, trippy alien monsters and goop and the fluid motion of games a-la Radio Jet Set and so much the better Sonic 3D games are a recipe for success, and that’s exactly what you get with it. solar ash. A beautifully made presentation piece with fun moves and sometimes stressful gameplay.
solar ash is first and foremost a beautiful game with a trippy aesthetic, you’re already stuck in space seeking to save your civilization using a device near a black hole. Off the bat, it’s already a relatively interesting story, especially with the way the issue surrounding the black hole is framed. There’s a centralized system and other people who should be there with the main character, but our hero Rei is stuck and alone. Now unable to return to her comrades, Rei must figure out why the system isn’t responding and save everyone before it’s too late.
Although a lot is left out and there is a mysterious divine entity that speaks to you in a generally unfavorable way, the story was what would have been a big seller for me. Sadly, story beats are rare, as the exhibit is sidelined in favor of collectibles hunting and time trials. This is because the game’s main gameplay loop is movement, which I’ll get to a bit later. what i can say solar ash does particularly well is to establish an overall “feel” for each area, even if the coloring remains essentially the same. Structures from ages past are dilapidated and torn apart not only by the pollution you’re fighting, but over time they make for great environmental storytelling. Even going from the crash site to the initial cloudy dreamscape where you meet your first friend and your first boss fight is story enough on its own; a great way to set the tone for the rest of the game without having to say much. The problem is that this general omission makes it tedious to piece together story elements as they are delivered, as there are usually long periods of silence as Rei skates back and forth to achieve the same goals again and again.
What I can easily say the strongest feature solar ash present is satisfaction. It’s incredibly satisfying to skate through alien worlds and leap or grapple from cliff to cliff, enjoying all the colors and environmental changes along the way. This is the main focus of the game, as most of the objectives and collectibles in the game are based not only on how you can achieve them, but also how quickly you can get to them. “Combat” is fast, minimal, and largely optional. It suffers from the same lack of combat depth that many games have had of late, with the game favoring movement options a lot more. Enemies are little more than obstacles in what is mostly a collection of “attack the objective” time trial missions while platforming and swinging around harmful platforms. This is the main gameplay loop, not only for normal sequences, but also for boss fights. While the movement is incredibly smooth and satisfying, the combat can get old relatively quickly, and I mostly found myself jumping around enemies after getting really used to the movement.
I think solar ash is great to experience in short bursts and really is a self-paced game to really focus on environments and exploration. Unfortunately, the main loop is a bit counter-intuitive for this, with time trials which can become stressful to complete being the majority of the focus to complete the objectives. That being said, essentially everything else about the gameplay experience is incredibly satisfying. I’m a huge fan of the visuals and character design, and frankly, if you like the aesthetic enough, it can carry the whole game. Hope to see more stuff like this from Heart Machine in the future, maybe -to be with a bit more depth in combat which can really bring out the potential of a game like solar ash had.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Tested on PlayStation 5