Towerfall Ascension Review

The bow is mightier than the sword.

There’s something so satisfying about catching your opponent’s arrow mid-flight and shooting it right back in his or her face--especially if you don't already have an arrow waiting in your quiver. It’s a complete reversal of fortune: the hunted becomes the hunter in a micro-drama that lasts less than a second. Then the next round starts and it all begins anew. Towerfall Ascension is full of these tiny victories, and joins a growing collection of competitive games--including Nidhogg, Samurai Gunn, and Divekick--that create fierce competition with a few simple commands. It’s a delightfully frantic game that rewards quick wits and strategy above mastering complex controls, and truly shines when you have three friends in arm’s reach to pit those talents against.

Of the games previously mentioned, Towerfall Ascension shares the most in common with Samurai Gunn. Both games feature one-hit kills, single-screen arenas, and a simple play style that amounts to little more than move and shoot. But while Samurai Gunn’s main focus is sword-on-sword violence, Towerfall is all about ranged fighting with your trusty bow and arrow. This could mean blasting your opponent point-blank before they can react, or setting up a long-range snipe while they’re busy battling your buddies. There are pros, cons, and plenty of variations to explore for these two tactics, but in the end Towerfall’s small arenas and fast-paced action force you constantly change your play style on the fly--which is an enjoyable challenge in the heat of battle.

All this talk of tactics is moot, however, if you don’t have any arrows. It is always a heartbreaking moment when you spy the perfect opportunity for a kill only to watch it slip past as you pitifully pluck at your naked bow string. You start with three arrows in your quiver, and arrow icons above your character’s head indicate how much ammunition you have remaining. When you run out--and you will run out--more arrows can be scavenged from the battlefield simply by walking over them, or by snatching them from your opponent. Each character has the ability to dash a short distance, and by dashing into an oncoming arrow you can catch it out of midair and add it to your quiver. It’s an exciting technique that rewards you for getting in your opponent’s face from time to time, and not spending the entire match running away.

If your opponent is hoarding all the arrows, you can try stomping on his head for a melee kill. Just make sure they don't see you coming.
If your opponent is hoarding all the arrows, you can try stomping on his head for a melee kill. Just make sure they don't see you coming.

Unfortunately, if you’re playing Towerfall alone your options are limited as this game is definitely designed for group play. When played solo, you can either hone your skills in Trials mode, or take on the AI in Quest mode. The trials are broken out into several time trials which test your ability to take down targets in the fastest time. Trials are also a great place to master the game’s many arrow variants--such as drill arrows and bomb arrows--since there are trials specifically tailored for different arrow types. In the Quest mode, you and up to one other player can take on waves of monsters cooperatively across 10 different stages. Not only will you encounter enemy archers in this mode, but slimes, ghosts, and grim reapers as well. These foes fight differently from the archers, which is good for breaking up the archer-on-archer combat that’s so prevalent in the game’s main mode: Versus.

Versus is where Towerfall Ascension is at its best. Up to four players can compete in free-for-all matches or break out into teams of two, and both modes feel very different. Free-for-all matches are extremely chaotic as you try and monitor up to three other players at once to ensure you don't take an arrow to the back while lining up your next shot. Alternatively, team matches are more calculated. You can coordinate with your partner to launch a two-pronged attack, or send one out as a decoy to draw fire while you snipe from afar. You can further tweak either mode by activating some of the game’s variants. Some variants make the game more challenging by killing you if you try to shoot an arrow when you have none available, or add to the chaos by causing corpses to explode. Together, the variants are more than just a goofy distraction. They can modify matches in interesting ways and help extend your enjoyment of the game.

Towerfall Ascension's stages have great variety in their layouts and the sorts of traps and other hazards they offer.
Towerfall Ascension's stages have great variety in their layouts and the sorts of traps and other hazards they offer.

Whether you’re playing with or without variants, Towerfall is a blast to play with your friends. Scoring a kill takes work since the arrows don’t move much faster than the characters, and can be snatched out of the air by alert players. Instead of fighting head-on, you are constantly thinking of new ways to outsmart the other players--either by tricking them with some new tactic or catching them with a surprise attack. You need a plan of attack, and when that plan comes together it feels very rewarding.

If you don’t have any friends on hand, Towerfall’s appeal drops significantly. Quest mode is a fun distraction, but pales against the fierce competition of Versus, which requires at least two local players to use. Online play is completely absent as well, which further compounds this issue. With a few friends, Towerfall Ascension is a fantastic multiplayer game that offers a ton of variations on its enjoyable archery combat. Just make sure those friends can join you on the couch.

The Good
Chaotic combat rewards precision
Variants offer interesting new ways to play
Great stage variety
The Bad
Multiplayer is limited to offline only
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Maxwell McGee is relishing the fact that one-hit kills are breathing new life into the competitive brawler genre; but his primary Towerfall tactic of blowing himself up with his own bomb arrows still needs work.
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GameSpot has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to toxic conduct in comments. Any abusive, racist, sexist, threatening, bullying, vulgar, and otherwise objectionable behavior will result in moderation and/or account termination. Please keep your discussion civil.

Avatar image for mbize2007

I just bought this game on Steam and played it with a few friends and it was a blast!

To those wondering why this doesn't have multiplayer: replace the word "they" with the word "he." This game was made by ONE GUY. In addition, games like this are crucial to be played without lag (anyone ever try playing 2d fighting games like street fighter or Super Smash Bros online?). The developer would be spending a lot of time trying to implement a feature that would just be criticized. If you have friends or family nearby that you can play with, this is absolutely worth getting. Otherwise, just move on to the next game.

Avatar image for wEEman33

It amazes me that, in the year 2014, a multiplayer-focused game can release without online play.

In the words of the Angry Video Game Nerd, "WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?"

Avatar image for quinten488

@wEEman33 Exactly! How stupid can they be. I dont play games with my brothers and sisters anymore, if this game had online play than i would get it.

Avatar image for psuedospike

I would get this IF it had online multiplayer.

Avatar image for psuedospike

I take that back, got it cheap and play it all the time with friends that come over, beat every level on Hardcore and now I wanna endorse this game! lol

Avatar image for quinten488

@psuedospike me too, it makes no sense that it dosen't have online play.

Avatar image for aus_pride

@LpcWarrior @guardianofhonor tell that to the PS4 circlejerkers that count pixels

Avatar image for spectreSE7EN

@shinjuki If this were an XB1 game everyone would be acting like a smart ass, making comments about the graphics looking 5 generations ago. But its a PS4 Indie game so it's so creative and artsy now.

Avatar image for porcupeth123

this game is getting betting scores than Titanfall, suck on that xbots.

Avatar image for spectreSE7EN

@porcupeth123 Yeah, towerfall has a total of 4 critic reviews on metacritc vs. 27 for titanfall. A little easier to keep your average up with only 4 critics weighing in. Still a 90 overall with only 4 reviews vs. an 87 overall with 27 reviews really isn't a big gap.

Avatar image for troyhalo34

I love my ps4 we just need that killer game to come out.

Avatar image for PS4andXoneGamer

@troyhalo34 They'll come, don't you worry about that ;)

Avatar image for juanpablo1985

Niceee, i spent 500 dolars on a next gen consol to play games i could play in my gameboy advance...

Avatar image for spectreSE7EN

@juanpablo1985 but wait, it runs at 1080p 60fps...a tough thing to do with an 8 bit game.

Avatar image for Xero1246

@juanpablo1985 tell me about it **rme**

Avatar image for Ahiru-San

@juanpablo1985 and don't forget 2 different pinball games!! n-i-c-e-!

Avatar image for sladakrobot

I like those pixels alot.

Avatar image for hadlee73

@shinjuki @hadlee73 That's good to hear, as that pretty much means I've done nothing either by pointing it out ;)

Avatar image for hadlee73

Its a really fun game, but good golly those static screenshots make it look so bad, lol

Avatar image for hadlee73

@shinjuki So you decided to point out the lack of shit talkers by talking shit about them. That's an interesting strategy! lol

Avatar image for RussellGorall

Finally, the PS4 has more PS3 games!

Avatar image for naryanrobinson

@shinjuki Way to start people not talking shit, genius.

Avatar image for nl_skipper

@shinjuki Yes please, it has been fun to troll the Xbox for a bit, but it has gotten out of hand and people need to get over it already!

Avatar image for Tsuchikage

I'd buy this game if it had online multiplayer.

Avatar image for finalfantasy94

what the hell no online co-op. I would have loved to play with a friend. Devs need to learn that couch co-op is secondary to online co-op. Its hard as hell to get friends together and play in one house. Online makes things easier.This stuff is a must especally when the game depends on it so much.

Avatar image for guardianofhonor

How do you give a game that looks like it came out 25 years ago an 8? And not even mention that as a negative. Guess he thinks "indie games" should not be held to the same standards as other games, seems unfair and biased. "Indie" is not an excuse for being crap.

Growing up I did not think people would be making games like this in 2014, but I guess call it "indie" and its ok....casual gamers and fake-ass hipsters are starting to really water down gaming for the rest of us. The critics who keep overrating this stuff are so full of shit.

Avatar image for abcdefgabcdefgz

@guardianofhonor I do think indie is getting carried away with retro as excuse for crappy ms paint graphics. SNES was retro too and it has much better 16 bit art. Where is all of that?

Avatar image for wEEman33

@guardianofhonor I find it funny that a guy who uses graphics as the primary criterion for whether or not a game is good is calling other people "hipsters."

Avatar image for midnightxdrive1

@guardianofhonor This was an artistic choice in the same way ultra-realism in other games is... pixel art is a thing and the art style is one of the most appealing aspects of the game.

Avatar image for chibistevo32

@guardianofhonor Because you don't look at a game. You play it.

Why should looks degrade a score just because time has passed.

It's also down to context and relativity. Granted, if a 3D action game was released today and had the polygons of a PSX game, it might warrant criticism. But if a game archtype ( such as this 2D looking one ) doesn't benefit from graphics, then why hold it against it. If Chrono Trigger was released today, I would still give it a 10.

The key point here is everything else in a game Vs looks. If you find the latter important, then that's your particular niche, but why assume this is a be all and end all criteria? Take Minecraft for example; a game which looks like absolute ass, yet created a very successful and original concept that had never been fully realized in gaming before. Some would argue this game to be more important than any high budget 'gorgeous visuals' game in the past 5+ years.

It's funny you should mention 'watering it down' for the rest of us. The majority of past decade AAA titled games with top notch graphics have done nothing but water down gaming, producing absolutely nothing original and worthwhile.

If you were to associate the term 'casual gamer' to any particular person, it would be the one playing said games, not as you seem to think.

Avatar image for guardianofhonor


Never played a game without looking at it before...

The majority of AAA games in the last decade have not been worthwhile? What planet are you living on? Having shit graphics does not make a game original in my book and most "indie games" have shallow gameplay on top of that.

The "indie game" thing is just a response to all the casual gamers smartphones and tablets have brought in to gaming and they are trying to sell it off as "hip" or the CoD alternative to try and get more serious gamers to buy into it, don't believe the hype.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat


You already have dissed mainstream and indie titles. What kind of games do you like, really?

Let me guess - the ones that debuted in 2000 to 2005?

Avatar image for LpcWarrior

@guardianofhonor "How do you give a game that looks like it came out 25 years ago an 8?"

In a Isn't that what we play games for?

Avatar image for MateykoSlam

i like how gamespot always says they don't take team size, budget, etc into account when they review a game when its clear that indie games are not rated like AAAs. and i agree, they shouldn't be.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat

Do check out Alec Holowka's soundtracks for this game at Bandcamp - you can listen to them for free.

Avatar image for miser_cz

Oh cool, another retro pixel game!

Avatar image for cjtopspin

@miser_cz : I have to say I am starting to agree with miser_cz here. It's like this idea of cheap retro pixel sidescrollers has become its own genre now.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat


Maybe you are in the wrong site.

Avatar image for miser_cz

@Gelugon_baat @miser_cz On the very right one. Checking whether indies discovered something new. Apparently not.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat


Well, if you are going to say that, what alternative solution would you suggest then?

Avatar image for miser_cz

@Gelugon_baat @miser_cz How narrow must be your knowledge of games, to think pixel art is only solution to limited budget.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat


Yet I will still say that you are in the wrong site, and never will be, I add. If you are expecting indies to make games with super-snazzy graphics, you likely will never find any.

Avatar image for matthewkenealy

This game was made for offline play and entirely developed by one guy. I don't think it is a fair complaint to say this doesn't have online play.

Avatar image for Getesh

@matthewkenealy A game like this would suffer with online play. Take the game this plays like in samurai gunn. The developer didn't put online in that game because every action is a split decision action where milliseconds determine life or death. Online lag would cause issues in that timing.

Avatar image for TomMcShea

@matthewkenealy We don't take development cost or the size of the team or any other ancillary facts in to account when we review a game. Every game is judged on its own merits. Clearly, we still think very highly of this game, but it would do a disservice to our readers is we ignored the lack of online play.

Still, it's crazy impressive that one person made such an incredible game.

Avatar image for Blade_Runner22

@matthewkenealy Totally agree. It is what it is. Reviewer could also have complained about the lack of 3D support, checkpoints, motion blur, fatalities and extended combos to name a few, and given it a 4... Luckily he didn't think of those.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat


So had there been several such other games, created by a single person to be a party game.

If the game had online play, there certainly would not be such a complaint, and this game would have been even more amazing.

Avatar image for pinicolaroxa

next gen graphics

Avatar image for hochstreck


Avatar image for prats93

No online multiplayer=Shit

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TowerFall Ascension More Info

  • First Released Mar 11, 2014
    • Linux
    • Macintosh
    • + 6 more
    • Nintendo Switch
    • Ouya
    • PC
    • PlayStation 4
    • PlayStation Vita
    • Xbox One
    TowerFall is an archery combat platformer for up to 4 players.
    Average Rating36 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate TowerFall Ascension
    Developed by:
    Matt Thorson, Matt Makes Games Inc.
    Published by:
    Matt Makes Games Inc., Matt Thorson
    Content is generally suitable for ages 10 and up. May contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language and/or minimal suggestive themes.
    Everyone 10+
    Fantasy Violence