Solar Ash begins by dropping the protagonist Rei on a strange alien planet. Rei is a Voidrunner, one of a group of scouts sent to the Ultravoid to harvest something called the Starseed that could save their dying planet. When she arrives, we see brief glimpses of a towering, divine figure that looks suspiciously similar to Rei – she’s familiar, but twisted.
In a sense, this is how all Solar Ash unfolds. The familiar mechanics come together for something that feels out of place in the most exciting way. The ideas of the game are very different from each other, but they add up to something much greater than the sum of its parts. Solar Ash is fast, cool, and hectic in the best way possible.
At its core, Solar Ash is a movement game. Rei can walk, but doing so won’t allow you to overcome platforming challenges littering the alien landscape. You’ll use his skating ability for the duration of the game, gliding through the clouds and rooftops at high speed. The move looks a lot like Jet Set Radio’s own inline skating. Rei’s boosters make things better, making you move even faster for a short time. Maintaining this speed is essential to beating each challenge, though a skill called Timeslip can also temporarily slow down the entire game, allowing for more precise jumps. This makes Solar Ash feel like a roller coaster as it steadily ramps up, pauses briefly, and then launches again; it’s an exciting beat.
Running isn’t the only tool at Rei’s disposal – climbing is also a key mechanic. Rei’s grappling hook can be hooked onto ledges or floating points to launch her forward, and her reach is extended each time Timeslip is activated. The various biomes are also covered in black silt, “anomalies” as history calls them, which are an important part of the shelf. Rei can climb any ooze-covered surface, but her stickiness also stops her if she crosses it. Rei can also hold onto rails, which send her to the top of buildings and around cliffs as they meander over the landscape. Gravity changes with the rails and with certain platforms, allowing Rei to race through curved areas in all directions in the style of Super Mario Galaxy, wrapping the camera in it to reveal new perspectives. All this influences the incessant rhythm of the game.
Fast-paced punches and platforming
These movement mechanics are fully involved during combat and exploration. Timeslip can help you dodge enemy attacks, and momentum can take you straight to their faces to launch a sword slash. Rei is not the longest lasting hero; their shields can only take a few hits, even when fully upgraded. Solar Ash again demands speed from the player to win in these fights, even if the combat is not a big focus of the game.
Where these mechanics really shine is in Solar Ash’s platforming challenges. Every biome is riddled with anomalies that must be eliminated. The formula to eliminate each anomaly is the same: you must hit the weak points in the form of a syringe in quick succession. An on-screen timer indicates when the next weak spot will disappear, causing the black silt to heat up to dangerous levels that can melt your shields if you touch it. Hitting all the weak spots correctly is like nailing a skating line in Tony Hawk games, while following the perfect route along rails, through gaps, ledges, etc. There is great satisfaction in cutting every weak point and cleaning up the trash, further promoted by a great animation of Rei victoriously piercing her weapon at the final node.
Ash of the Colossus
Cleaning up all the anomalies in an area wakes up the boss. These massive creatures, known as Remnants, are reminiscent of the mighty titans of Shadow of the Colossus, and are fought in similar ways. Each one is covered in weak spots, which Rei must destroy in turn. Much like the platforming challenges, you’ll have to skate and scale these beasts to hit each one – you’ll be grinding the tails and crawling up the Remnants’ backs as you take them down. If you don’t do it before the time runs out, you will be knocked to the ground to start the process over. Sometimes the camera makes this more difficult than it should be at times. It wraps around the boss figure just as it would if it were moving around a sphere, and this can obscure the critical path it must take to the next weak point.
Over the course of three rounds, each boss uses new attacks and exposes different weak point patterns, making each fight as varied as the anomalies. Their emotion is even stronger when a Remnant is defeated. Rei plunges her sword into the boss to take him down, with more flair than when she clears an anomaly.
An alien world
As threatening as bosses may be, the planet they protect is quite beautiful. Like developer Heart Machine’s previous game, Hyper Light Drifter, Solar Ash has a striking art style, dominated by royal purples, neon pinks, and soft azure blues. While those are the dominant hues, each biome still feels and looks very different; You won’t confuse the poisonous Mirrorsea with the damp, mushroom-filled Eternal Garden, for example.
With each biome, new environmental challenges also arise. The aforementioned poison in Mirrorsea is deadly if delayed too long, and mushroom spores from the Eternal Garden must be quickly brought behind closed doors to open the way forward. This way, the platforming challenges don’t feel repetitive and continually increase in difficulty as you approach the endgame areas.
Influences from other games are quite present in Solar Ash: Tony Hawk’s line tracking, the immersive camera from Super Mario Galaxy, the huge bosses from Shadow of the Colossus. While those together may seem incongruous, they come together to make it an exciting, fast-paced platformer that gives you the tools to move smoothly and complete the challenges ahead. It’s so satisfying to nail down those obstacle courses, erase anomalies, and tear down the remains of skyscrapers. The Solar Ash roller coaster is worth riding.