I hate being a meanie to video games, but sometimes you just don’t feel it, you know? Solar Ash is a difficult thing to dissect mostly because I was expecting so much from it. A game from Heart Machine, a studio that blessed us with Hyper Light Drifter, it promises even slicker action with interesting plot and style. But… have you heard anyone discussing it? Yeah…
I first heard about Solar Ash during the PS5 event, and, I am sure, you too. It looked neat, and the game gained some attention — mostly thanks to the studio’s reputation. But sometimes making a good follow-up is way harder than coming up with a great debut. And no, the game is not bad at all, but… it’s lacking something. Something essential to any memorable release.
So, the mission is to activate the Starseed to destroy the Ultravoid… you still with me? So… the mission goes very wrong and only one Voidunner remains. Now it’s your turn to stop a calamity. I am sorry, but I won’t go into more details. After all, there’s just more of this pseudo-sci-fi nonsense with made-up words and mission logs. And I am all for sci-fi nonsense usually, but it’s so dry and so by the numbers that I don’t even want to go there. You have a mission and you do it. It’s a video game.
Solar Ash looks neat (and when this word appears, you know there’s trouble), but its abstract neon esthetic is not new. The world is full of geometric shapes and lacks any details. There’s nothing interesting to look at. The colors are nice, but… I’ve seen colors, okay?
The main attraction here is the traversal mechanic. Our little solitary Voidunner has to navigate a vast open world in the hope of defeating whatever threat that is there. It’s psychodelic and weirdly relaxing. Put on some music and slip into the zone. If you’re feeling like it, you can have a lot of fun with our protagonist, who’s skating all over the place. There are enemies and such (once again, it’s a video game), but not much: you rarely fight, and fighting is fairly simplistic overall. It’s more about acrobatics and the otherworldly parkour: Rei, which is the name of our hero, traverses the planet, killing tar-like substances and gets to unreachable places. It reminds me of Gravity Rush a bit, but I am not really sure why.
Traversal is basically what is there. The aim to to get to inaccessible places. That’s all. Not dreadfully exciting. And so we dash, climb, run, grind, fall and fall and fall again until we succeed. It’s a platformer, but even traversal, which is FINE most of the time, makes me angry at times. Losing your track is extremely easy and sometimes after especially hard fall you just don’t feel like doing it all over again. But the feeling of movement when it works is great, and in those moment you remember that yeah, Heart Machine made this.
I like moving in Solar Ash, but I hate the world. Sorry, but I do: it’s isolated, silent and boring. There’s nothing there: no feeling of mystery, no amazing vistas. Just samey differently colored space. There are journals to find and read, but give me a break, it’s such a dated way of world-building that I can’t even be bothered. And really, this is what’s so sad: there aren’t really any original ideas here. I’ve seen all of it before, and some ideas are taken from the games that might be decades old. It looks the part, I guess, and feels exhilarating at times, but mostly it’s very rote. It’s all mechanics and no soul. Clear a zone, clear a zone, clear a zone, defeat an anomaly, activate the Seed and move to another area with the same objectives. A game can be many things, but boring is not one of them. And I know that it’s all subjective, but really, there’s nothing that motivates me going forward except for the decent feel of platforming.
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Solar Ash is not a bad game. The famous last words, heh? Well, it’s not. It’s promising and slick, but there’s a feeling that the inspiration wasn’t really there for the developers. They know how to make a character move, but Solar Ash just can’t motivate me to keep playing.