Solar Ash Review
The Heart Machine studio, once noted for the hit Hyper Light Drifter, presented its new game project - Solar Ash.
This time the team decided to move away from pixel 2D and release a stylish three-dimensional action platformer in an unusual entourage. A minimalist design, a bright palette and a sense of speed were used. The developers decided to tie a wild cocktail with a futuristic story about saving the world.
In Solar Ash, players travel to a distant galaxy where an all-devouring black hole called the Ultra-Abyss moves through space. One day, she stumbles upon an advanced civilization that decides to stop the catastrophe threatening her home planet with the help of the "Star Seed" device. Scientists assemble a special car and move forward with an expedition to a natural disaster, but their plan collapses, and the project participants are scattered across different worlds.
The girl Ray decides to save the situation. The heroine embarks on an amazing journey to repair and start the mechanisms of the central iotabyte system (CIS) in each of the six regions. The network is broken and constantly crashes with messages, trying to lower the girl's self-esteem and force her to quit what she started.
The backbone of the gameplay does not change throughout the passage: the character opens a new sector, finds five anomalies there, destroys them and fights with a giant boss. Solar Ash partly resembles a runner due to the rapid movement through extensive locations. The L2 button (the DualSense layout is indicated here and below) is responsible for running, performed by Heart Machine as a ride on futuristic roller skates. The key will be held down most of the time, and the feeling of speed will not leave the player for a minute.
In the process of exploring locations, Ray will find secrets and solve the simplest puzzles. Especially impatient users can immediately rush to destroy the flaws, however, in fact, there is nothing else to do in Solar Ash, so a step aside looks like a breath of fresh air, where developers reveal and show interesting mechanics. Speaking of the latter, it is worth mentioning spatial movements, due to which you can discover unexplored places and observe interesting things.
Ray is literally able to turn the world upside down, moving around the round earth or connecting neighboring islands of locations of the path. Another interesting mechanic is moving "along the rails" — the character jumps on a thin stem or a similar process and slides by pressing the L2 button. The heroine can use a double jump, fly over precipices, clinging to objects hanging in the air with a cat hook and accelerate for a couple of seconds by pressing R2 - all for the sake of speed.
It is important to note that Solar Ash is still not a runner in its purest form: there are areas in the game where players can show their climbing skills and the ability to pass platformers. In addition, Ray will meet groups of enemies who need to be killed on the ground, in the air and jumping from wall to wall. However, opponents do not cause any trouble and are instantly destroyed with a couple of combo strikes.
The most interesting thing in Solar Ash, in addition to exploring locations, are boss fights. In order to summon the latter to battle, it is necessary to "awaken" them. To do this, it is necessary to clean up the local "ulcers" on the body of the planet. Getting close to one of them, Ray will see a column, a blow on which triggers a chain reaction. It is important for the girl to destroy all such objects for a while and finish what she started with a finishing blow to the monster's eye.
It is quite difficult to describe what is happening on the screen, but it looks something like this: at high speed, Ray, flying on hooks and climbing walls, rushes headlong from column to column in order to have time to activate them all. The time given to complete the task varies depending on the difficulty set, which affects only the destruction of anomalies and boss fights.
Battles with the latter resemble Shadow of the Colossus, with the only difference that there is no need to solve riddles here — it is enough to activate the columns at high speed, keeping within the specified timer. In total, the enemies have three phases, the last of which adds the "floor is lava" mode to the game, when it is impossible to step into the marked area.
In words, the mechanics of Solar Ash are simple and the game does not promise anything complicated, but in fact a number of problems come out that the developers could not cope with. The creation of Heart Machine shows through a lot of flaws, and not in terms of leveldesign and other serious problems, namely the mistakes of programmers in most cases.
The general roughness of the project is seen literally in everything: Ray can miss the rails without "sticking" to the object; the character is able to fall into the abyss, sliding off the boss's body due to the camera not keeping up with him; an ordinary enemy hurts from behind, remaining invisible beyond the screen; the player does not have time to run to the next column, not understanding where he is due to unintuitive marks, and so on. The sense of speed also needed to be calculated better, because often you do not have time to stop or, on the contrary, you fly over an object with an incredibly long jump.
It is clear that this is the first project in the three-dimensional world for the studio, but its development had to be treated with great diligence. But what does not cause complaints is the visual component. Colorful pictures of what is happening are pleasing to the eye, and flirting with the prospect is a delight, especially when you find a secret on the back of the area.
Optimization on the PS5 is not ideal. There are constantly situations when Solar Ash does not keep a stable frequency of 60 frames per second, especially in an open location. Drawdowns do not affect the gameplay, but they are annoying and do not allow you to get the highest quality gaming experience.
Another issue is the pumping system, which forces the collection of local currency - red orbs. They can be spent on the reconstruction of the shield, namely, on the purchase of one health cell. The price for each segment increases: a thousand orbs, two thousand, and so on. The problem is that after passing the boss, one segment is forcibly removed from the player, forcing him to collect objects again. To say that this was done on purpose is to say nothing. Thus, the developers delay the passage, which looks mean on their part. Fortunately, you can replenish the shields from the boxes found here and there, and the enemies do not pose a serious threat.
The plot component wants to seem fascinating, but in fact the user is forced to search for magazines and assemble the puzzle piece by piece themselves. In each world there are non-player characters who give out a task, which is also quite difficult to complete due to its complexity. It is enough to skip one cave or pass by the necessary object, and the thread of the plot is lost.
Dialogues, including with CIS, are so vague that sometimes you have to listen to them many times to understand what the authors wanted to say. Moreover, the plot itself is as simple as possible, and the ending to which the authors lead can be predicted in advance.
Solar Ash has been translated into Russian with subtitles containing some errors. Sometimes a male character speaks from a female person, and sometimes there is an English text. The game has problems with navigation, when the user may not understand where to go next or why he was brought to the specified area, and the clumsy translation only adds questions.
In general, despite the shortcomings, Solar Ash looks like a curious mix of Jet Set Radio and Shadow of the Colossus with cute graphics and interesting bosses. The creation of Heart Machine largely copies the mechanics of other games, but fans of the genre should like it, even if it does not become as iconic as the first work of the team.
Solar Ash is available on PS4, PS5 and PC (Epic Games Store) - it is an exclusive of Sony consoles and the computer digital store of Fortnite authors.
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