Independent developer Heart Machine made their name known back in 2016 when they released the beautiful 2D pixel art game Hyper Light Drifter. Since then they’ve been working on their next game together with publisher Annapurna Interactive. Solar Ash is the name and it once again has plenty of visual style only this time it’s showing it off in 3D instead of 2D.
The story of Solar Ash is about a universe in danger and a hero who has to try and save it. Something called the Ultravoid is devouring planet after planet. You play as a Voidrunner named Rei whose planet is next up in the Ultravoid’s path. She was part of a team of Voidrunners that were sent in to activate a device called the Starseed that can save their world but her crew has vanished and now the task is solely on Rei’s shoulders. Getting this machine activated is not a simple task though as huge creatures and other obstacles stand in Rei’s way.
The gameplay in Solar Ash is all about platforming and fast, fluid movement. If I had to compare it to some other games I would say the movement reminded me of The Pathless that released last year (also from Annapurna) while battling the giant bosses reminded me of Shadow of the Colossus. Rei can navigate the open areas by holding L2 to use the skates on her feet and it feels great in motion. Weaving and sliding all over the place feels responsive and is pure joy in this game. You can slow down easily and pick your speed back up in no time. If you need a quick speed boost you can press R2 for it which is really useful when needing to cross gaps. Rei also has a grapple hook that you can use with the R1 button allowing you to grab onto points in the world and pull yourself to them. Rounding out Rei’s moveset is an ability to slow down time called Timeslip using the Circle button and an energy sword used to attack with using the Square button. Timeslip is really useful when needing just that little bit of extra time to see if you can make a jump or to plan your next move.
There are six different zones to explore each of which looks unique, is full of platforming and puzzles, and has secrets to find if you choose. Enemies are around too and are pretty easy to deal with in a few hits. Most of the time I was able to dodge their attacks and take them out all while not breaking my movement cycle. The tougher fights are against the Remnants which are the huge bosses I mentioned earlier. There are six of them in total that you need to bring down in order to get the Starseed up and running. Each of them is a sight to behold and much like Shadow of the Colossus you have to scale across them and break certain points within a time limit in order to defeat them. A couple of them I struggled with a bit but I never got that frustrated. I would say taking each of them on is the best part about this game and I always felt awesome when I pulled off bringing one down.
While combat is a part of Solar Ash most of the time is spent skating around and exploring every spot you can. There are friendly faces around with some side quests that you can do for them, collectibles that you can find to unlock new suits, and plasma pick-ups that can be used to get shields for your health. Most of this is optional so you don’t have to do and find this stuff but it helps to flesh out the lore a bit more and give you more to do. The game itself only took me around 7 to 8 hours to finish and there isn’t much of a reason to replay it once you do. Whether that length is worth the asking price is up to you to decide but I certainly felt like I got plenty of enjoyment out of the game.
Another great thing about Solar Ash is just how darn gorgeous everything is. The world is full of bright neon colors and impressive vistas throughout. Each of the six areas has its own look to it ranging from scorching red lava to towering skyscrapers. It’s one of those games that you just don’t want to end because being in it and taking in the sights is just so relaxing and satisfying. I played the PlayStation 5 version and I had no issues with performance or any other bugs during my playthrough which is very impressive given how many buggy and unfinished games we’ve seen lately. The game was supposed to come out back in October before getting a short delay and to me that seems to have been the right move. The audio is equally as good with great voice acting from the characters and a sci-fi soundtrack befitting of this world. Trophy hunters will find 33 trophies including a Platinum here and since the game is Cross-Buy on PlayStation you can get two Platinums for the price of one. It’s a good list asking you to complete the game, do side content, beat the game in under three hours, and more.
Solar Ash just managed to make it out in 2021 but it instantly became one of my favorite games of the year. It has an interesting story that got its hooks in me from the get go and the visuals and art direction are jaw dropping. Even though you spend a lot of the time doing a lot of the same things over and over the gameplay never got old to me as the fast and fluid movement system is so darn thrilling as are the towering boss fights. Solar Ash is a lot different from Hyper Light Drifter but it’s another must-play from Heart Machine.
*Solar Ash is available now on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, and PC. PlayStation 5 version reviewed. Review copy provided by the publisher for this review.
- Fast, fluid, and responsive movement system
- Bringing down each boss is thrilling
- Visuals and art direction is stunning
- Great and varied world design
- Interesting story with great voice acting
- Doesn't last long and no real replay value
- You do a lot of the same things over and over