Occasionally, you boot up a new game that makes your next several hours disappear into the ether. Most of the time, it’s a MOBA or a roguelite game. Hades did this to me on multiple occasions.
Astral Ascent has become not only that current game in my rotation, but I will stop myself there. There has been no rotation. Recently, I’ve only been playing Astral Ascent.
Like Hades, this title is an action game with roguelike elements. And just like with that game, this 2D pixelated world oozes personality and has eye-popping effects in a way that only the best titles do. Deep lore, great characterizations, exciting interactions and planets, and, of course, great gameplay are all at your fingertips with Astral Ascent.
The Astral Ascent Begins
The world and universe of this game are quite expansive and impressive. You play as one of four characters with distinct backgrounds and reasons for toppling the big bad. The formidable foe is “The Master,” a powerful being who has imprisoned millions and uses the astrological signs to keep things at bay.
Each of the twelve signs (Taurus, Capricorn, Cancer, Virgo, etc.) is represented by physical god-like people. Throughout the game, they’re stand-ins for the roguelike boss battles throughout your climb up the Astral Ascent.
Our playable characters are also joined by a large team of anthropomorphized creatures like a dragon, capibara, wolf, and a few humans. You’re banding together to stop this unwanted rule by The Master. These friends are all uniquely engaging and fully voice-acted as they provide you with story context and your upgrades.
Fighting Among the Stars
On to the gameplay itself, the real shining star of this title.
As I mentioned, Astral Ascent is a 2D roguelite, complete with all the usual upgrades and repeat runs in order to achieve your goal. While it is familiar in some sense, it does do an excellent job of setting itself apart and bringing some new ideas to a crowded and popular genre.
Controlling Alya, Kiran, Octave, and Calie is not only intuitive but a whole lot of fun. You begin with Ayla, who plays like a quick assassin and rogue-style fighter. She has quick moves and dashes and is equipped with daggers. Kiran is a smart-ass fist fighter covered in flames that reminds me of Ken from the Street Fighter franchise. Octave wields dual pistols and a friendly drone to shoot down enemies and dash and dodge. Calie is the last character you unlock and is a wizard-type fighter with damaging gems and spells.
What’s great about each of these heroes is not only are they equipped with their own playstyle and move sets, but they’re all fully realized with a deep backstory and excellent voice acting. I found myself caring about why they were signing up for this daunting task and had a wonderful time seeing and hearing them interact with each friend and foe in their own unique ways.
The diversity in the play styles does flesh out a wonderfully fun game. There is tons of variety no matter who you play as, and you’re never punished for using one hero over another. I gravitated to two for most of my playtime, though even when I strayed from my comfort zone, I found a lot to enjoy and felt rewarded, even if my runs were brief.
Spells and abilities are the game’s name in Astral Ascent. with dozens to unlock and choose from, the fun never feels repetitive or tired. There’s a small mana pool that refills as you strike with basic attacks, but other than that, you’ll find yourself equipping and firing off all four flashy and satisfying attacks every few seconds.
As my adventure and dozens of inevitably unsuccessful attempts continued, I never felt like the grind or the progression was a slog. Nearly every run I have ended with some reward and currency I could turn into cosmetics or new abilities. Late-game progress slows down a touch, but not enough to feel dull or unrewarding. I always felt powerful and loved how there were tough decisions to be made as I upgraded my revolving array of spells, my specialized skill, and even my basic attacks.
The spells are where Astral Ascent brings in even more depth than I expected. Not only are there a ton to unlock, but each one has four slots that add modifiers. Astral Ascent encourages you to experiment and find what works best. But I found that I was still having fun even if I didn’t have a completely comfortable loadout heading into a boss fight.
There are also opportunities to have one of the boss or Zodiacs fight alongside you. These powerful attacks refresh the more spells you unleash on your foes. They are not only a spectacle to see but are incredibly fun to use!
Astral Ascent Looks and Sounds Great
This game is a treat for the eyes and ears. It begins with a great looking anime-inspired cinematic that flows and oozes with style. The colours throughout the game pop and catch your attention no matter what’s going on. Whether you’re slashing through screens filled with enemies or bosses or just chatting to someone in The Garden hub area, it looks fantastic.
At times, I did wish the game stayed with that style during gameplay. Instead, things turn to a pixelated aesthetic. Don’t get me wrong, it still looks great, and it does not take away from the creativity at play; I thoroughly enjoyed seeing that opening scene in action.
I’ve already mentioned the game has some great voice acting. Every interaction is fully voice-acted, no matter who you’re speaking with. Each of these also varies depending on who you’re currently playing as. This makes the game feel fresh and exciting and made me realize how much effort was put into making Astral Ascent a complete package.
This could be one of the biggest and best sleeper hits of 2023. Astral Ascent has a ton going for it. The longer you play it, the more you uncover all it offers. I’ve made a couple of successful runs, but it won’t stop me from playing repeatedly.
With various playable characters, what feels like an endless array of active and passive spells and abilities, and a rich story ready to be uncovered, it’s hard not to recommend this game.
If a fast-paced, colourful, roguelite game interests you, you owe it to yourself to try Astral Ascent.
[The publisher provided a copy of the game for review purposes.]
Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch
Review: Astral Ascent
Deep lore and story
Tight, satisfying gameplay
Tons of variety in spells and abilities
Unique and eye-popping art style
Sometimes hard to notice finer details in big, flashier battles