It is always deeply refreshing when a game comes around that is not only built by a solid company, but is also an interesting evolution of the genre. I’ve been excited about Solar Ash since I first saw its announcement during one of Sony’s State of Play presentations. All I needed was to see Heart Machine’s logo, and hear that eerie sci-fi music sting and I knew this was going to be something I wanted to play—with Heart Machine’s previous game, Hyper Light Drifter being one of my favourite indie titles of all time.
I didn’t really know what to expect when I first saw Solar Ash—appearing so fundamentally different from its predecessor. However, even after sitting in on a preview with Alx Preston, it definitely exceeded my expectations. Solar Ash is a deep, intricate game that is built around one mechanic, and it executes it with aplomb.
Solar Ash puts players in the role of Rei—a Voidrunner whose planet is on the brink of being destroyed by a supermassive black hole, known as the Ultravoid. However, there is a way to stop this: by implanting a device known as a Starseed which can neutralize the Ultravoid and save her planet. When Rei’s team of runners doesn’t report back upon installing the Starseed, she sets off into the Ultravoid to try and find them; or activate the Starseed herself and stop the destruction of her planet.
“Solar Ash features a lot more story-telling than its predecessor…”
As I mentioned in my preview, Solar Ash features a lot more story-telling than its predecessor, which left a lot up to the player’s interpretation; and, much like the game itself; it’s a refreshing change of pace. That isn’t to say there aren’t still little moments of intrigue and interpretation—as the Ultravoid is a strange and maddening place and remnants of past civilizations, and even people are caught within it.
Character dialogue and logs left behind are tragic and cryptic, so even though the game delivers more in the way of outward narrative, there’s still a lot to interpret, really offering the best of both worlds. Much like its predecessor, it’s a dark sci-fi experience that evokes feelings of loneliness and isolation in a world that has been long dead.
Gameplay is equally divergent from Hyper Light Drifter, and just as inspired. Solar Ash is a game about movement, pure and simple. Every area within the Ultravoid is vast and vertical—broken into various segments of floating platforms, and dilapidated buildings. It’s one part Jet Set Radio and one part Mario Galaxy as players skate through each level seeking out and destroying the several arms of living gates, blocking off each new area.
Movement is fluid, precise and highly addictive—as Preston explained, every challenge is a sort of “time trial,” as players have to get to the gate’s weak point before time runs out. This is cleverly explained in the game as the organism’s defence mechanism; generating an intense amount of heat that can potentially kill Rei. This pushes players to quickly observe their surroundings and move along the most effective route, and keep the momentum up. Furthermore, Solar Ash does give players a slow-down mechanic, so it’s not so abrasive that players who aren’t used to this kind of gameplay can’t pick it up and learn.
Boss fights are equally challenging and exciting, as players must skate along gigantic, eldritch creatures, like a much faster paced Shadow of the Colossus. In these moments, your skills are really put to the test, as you must hit every weak point along the creature’s body, right up the head—with every serious blow removing more of the ground you can skate on.
“Much like its predecessor, Solar Ash genuinely hooked me and kept me engaged throughout my time with it.”
It’s amazing how well such a simple mechanic can work when such a unique world is built around it. Every moment of movement gets your adrenaline pumping and keeps you wanting to see every nook and cranny of the Ultravoid, based solely on how fun moving around it is. What’s more interesting is how there are monsters within the game, but they’re almost a nuisance since they interrupt the forward momentum you usually gain exploring and traversing each area.
Visually, Solar Ash has a minimalistic, cel shaded aesthetic that does a lot with both soft colours and stark contrasts that genuinely compliments the desolate world—providing a more quiet visual style to compliment the desolate world, while highlighting some of the more deadly and dangerous moments. The various areas of the Ultravoid are detailed and interesting, ranging from the decrepit ruins of apartment buildings, poking through the clouds; to a medieval style castle, overgrown with bioluminescent mushrooms. The soundtrack is equally fitting—similar to that of Hyper Light Drifter with a haunting sci-fi soundtrack of long synthetic tones evoking the soundtrack of Blade Runner or other dark sci-fi.
Much like its predecessor, Solar Ash genuinely hooked me and kept me engaged throughout my time with it. Despite being a vastly different game, it’s just as intriguing, just as unique, just as challenging, and just as fun as Hyper Light Drifter—and again, maybe the most fun I’ve had with an indie game in a while. Whether you’re a fan of Hyper Light Drifter or you’re looking for something fast and deeply engaging, you owe it to yourself to try Solar Ash.