Analysis of Solar Ash
Developer Heart Machine was formed in 2013 to work on Hyper Light Drifter, a stylish action-RPG that is clearly an homage to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Hyper Light Drifter garnered mostly positive reviews during its release, building a dedicated fanbase and taking home several awards in the process. With such a positive reception for Hyper Light Drifter, hopes are high for Heart Machine’s next project, Solar Ash, and while it may not reach the same heights as its predecessor, it’s a solid effort and fun way to spend an afternoon. Whereas Hyper Light Drifter is a 2D game with retro-style graphics, Solar Ash is a fully 3D platformer with similar aesthetics. Both games use heavy colors like hot pink, and the character designs in Solar Ash are nothing like what players may remember from Hyper Light Drifter. Combat is a big focus in Hyper Light Drifter, and while it’s present in Solar Ash, it’s less of a focal point. The player character Rei is able to hack enemies with a basic melee attack, but there aren’t many enemy encounters and the boss battles are hardly presented as traditional battles. Instead, the bosses in Solar Ash are self-contained platforming challenges where players must reach targets within a time limit. So even if Solar Ash players don’t fight these bosses directly, the encounters can still be intense and it’s always satisfying when they’re conquered, especially since one mistake has players repeats an entire segment. Solar Ash’s bosses are a highlight of the experience, taking the form of massive black goo creatures meant to resemble various animals. There’s one clearly inspired by a snake, and another that looks like a giant bat, for example. While their design may sound generic on paper, the way bosses are presented in the game makes them look impressive and terrifying, big enough for players from all over the Solar Ash game world to see them. Taking on Solar Ash’s bosses is a treat and really the only reward players get for conquering each level. The levels in Solar Ash see players first establishing their base of operations, and then looking for some anomalies. Solar Ash anomalies are defeated by completing set platforming challenges, similar to boss battles, and always end with players poking a bulbous eye. Clearing all the anomalies results in a boss battle, and this is repeated for every area in the game. Solar Ash players have a variety of unique abilities when it comes to exploring the game world and hunting down anomalies. Solar Ash’s antagonist Rei is a Voidrunner, and is therefore equipped with gear that allows her to skate through the clouds. Players can use the boost function to speed up and launch Rei up ramps, clear large gaps and do so in hard-to-reach areas. Rei has the ability to slow down time and she also has a grapple hook-like device that can be used in certain situations. By mixing all these abilities, Solar Ash players are able to be creative when exploring the game world. All of Solar Ash’s platforming abilities are available to Rei right from the start of the game, which is less distracting in the way of a tutorial spelling out how best to use them, encouraging experimentation and allowing for freedom in the game. Players are given all the tools they need to tackle each challenge out of the gate, but this strategy is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, this ensures that Solar Ash players can immediately use Rei to her full potential, and having these different abilities makes platforming and exploring even more fun. On the other hand, there is no useful sense of progress. The reward for defeating a boss only goes to the next area, where Rei starts off as strong and doesn’t really get any better. The only way Solar Ash players can improve Rei is by giving her more shields, which are purchased with plasma dotted throughout the game world. Plasma in Solar Ash is the in-game currency, but it only serves the purpose of refilling Rei’s shields. Furthermore, Solar Ash players can easily accumulate enough plasma to max out Rei’s shields in the early game, but Solar Ash arbitrarily removes a chunk of shield after each boss fight , forcing players to hunt for more plasma to pay for something they already have. . Solar Ash players are also able to hunt down unique outfits for Rei to wear that each have their own abilities. For example, one of Rei’s Solar Ash suits can buff her attack power, while the other can lower the cooldown on her abilities. The problem is that none of these buffs are necessary for players who are quick in the game, as Solar Ash can be completed relatively easily, not to mention quickly. Players will have no problem defeating Solar Ash with the default suit if they want to. It takes about five and a half hours to complete Solar Ash for an initial playthrough on standard difficulty, and even on higher difficulties, it shouldn’t take all that much longer. Unlocking all the trophies in Solar Ash will require multiple playthroughs, however, so those looking to get the Platinum trophy should keep that in mind. There’s also not much in the way of compelling side content, as all side quests amount to doing the same thing over and over again. Solar Ash’s side activities, such as finding alternate outfits and completing quests for certain NPCs players encounter in the game, all essentially boil down to finding secret areas and collecting something. There’s nothing particularly unique about any of them, and while the stories attached to the side quests can be interesting, they’re all mostly told through files and dialog interactions, making it difficult to really to invest in the game world or what is happening. Solar Ash is repetitive and short, but that doesn’t take away from how fun the core gameplay is. The developers have nailed Solar Ash’s traversal system, making it truly fun to explore and complete the various platforming challenges. The art style is striking, the bosses are awesome, and while it won’t have the same lasting impact that Hyper Light Drifter did, Solar Ash is still worth a look for fans of the work of Heart Machine and the 3D platformer genre in general. Solar Ash is out now for PC, PS4, and PS5. Today Technology was provided with a PS5 code for this review.