The eagerly anticipated Solar Ash is out now for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 and PC, and we played the PlayStation versions of this adventure platformer from Annapurna Interactive.
Part of the reason that Solar Ash was so eagerly anticipated is that it was developed by Heart Machine, who previously created the beloved indie title Hyper Light Drifter. You’ll see some of the artistic flavor of that game here as well – especially when it comes to the use of color – but Solar Ash is an ambitious new direction for the team that takes inspiration from agility-based platformers like Ghostrunner and classics like Shadow of the Colossus.
In Solar Ash, you’re Rei, a “voidrunner” traveling to a black hole to try and prevent it from swallowing up her home world. Things didn’t start out as a solo mission for you, but it doesn’t take long before you’re all alone and have to explore the worlds that have been sucked into the void before – connecting power conduits as you go along in order to power up a device that will save your home from annihilation. It sounds complex as a premise, but this isn’t really a game where you’ll end up getting lost in a myriad of sci-fi/physics plot lines or anything like that.
Instead, there’s a lot of story exposition through encounters with other characters, as well as through knowledge left behind by other voidrunners and information contained in your AI buddy CYD. Some of it’s tied to optional side quests as well, so you have a degree of control in how much story you want as well. What there is we found to be interesting and well written, so the only reason we skipped a side mission here and there was to get the review up in time – we’ll certainly go back and check out what we missed.
Gameplay-wise, Rei has to traverse different areas that contain organic anomalies that you need to clear, which eventually triggers a boss to appear. Before that happens though, you can expect to jump, grapple and glide/grind your way through some well designed levels that features tons of verticality, but the danger of falling is made more tolerable because shortcuts gradually open up that let you make up any lost ground quickly.
Hyper Light Drifter had some good level design, but the team has really embraced the 3D nature of Solar Ash and the verticality that comes with that. It almost seems like you’re always climbing something – from skyscrapers to mountains and from the insides of caves to clock towers. You can do all that at your own pace, but once you get more comfortable with the controls and levels you’re also free to blaze through at a rapid pace, which feels addictive to do. Being able to traverse well is also a key in getting rid of the anomalies, which are objectives that are on a timer as you need to hit key points in quick succession in order to clear them.
There’s combat too, but Solar Ash is a platformer more than it is a combat game. Most enemies can be done away by quickly mashing the attack button as they go down after one or two hits, and things only get interesting (from a combat perspective) once you get to a boss fight and need to combine attacks with grapple moves and traversal. This is where the comparison with Shadow of the Colossus really comes into focus, as these creatures are huge and you need to navigate their bodies in order to get to weak points and strike them. These fights can feel unforgiving though, as mistiming a jump forces you to start over when you fall off the boss’ body on your way to the next point you need to strike.
Luckily, Solar Ash doesn’t overstay its welcome by having too many of these moments and the campaign isn’t too long either – ours (skipping a few side missions) clocked in at just over eight hours so we imagine you’re looking at 10 to 12 for a run that includes everything. It’s a worthwhile run that combines solid platforming, great level design and a striking visual design that includes impressive bosses.