In Solar Ash you’ll find a dazzling world on the brink of annihilation, one that’s equal parts empty yet teeming with mystery at every turn. Though in spite of its exceptional presentation, a number of gameplay shortcomings, and a costly entry point hold it back from being an easy recommendation.
Solar Ash thrusts you right into the center of a galactic mystery. There’s very little time to acclimate and minimal context to help you process your new otherworldly surroundings. This is all by design, however, as Heart Machine’s latest title lets you piece the puzzle together at your own pace.
Fighting through barren landscapes, mastering uniquely satisfying platforming, and uncovering well-kept secrets scattered throughout set you on your way to forming a cohesive story. It’s a relaxing adventure with stunning art direction and a great soundtrack, but not every feature rises to the same quality.
With a rather steep price point on day one, it’s all the more difficult to recommend. Though if you do happen to jump in down the line, Solar Ash rewards your time with some truly engaging level design that’s always worth exploring.
Solar Ash – Key details
- Price: $35.99 (USD) | £49.74 (GBP) | $57.99 (AUD)
- Developer: Heart Machine
- Release date: December 3, 2021
- Platforms: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, & PC
Solar Ash trailer
Exploration is paramount in this visually stunning world
Assuming the role of Rei, the last remaining hope trying to save her planet from an impending black hole, Solar Ash takes its time delivering key story beats.
The less you know before jumping in the better as not everything is spelled out for you right away. In fact, you can easily miss entire character arcs and some of the more meaningful backstory if you don’t take the time to thoroughly explore.
That’s where the game shines brightest, in taking its hands off the wheel and letting players unravel the mystery at hand. Even the most hard-to-reach areas, places truly off the beaten path, will often come bearing rewards. Whether it’s gems to repair any damage you’ve taken, or hidden lore entries to further expand the narrative, it’s always worth your effort to veer away from marked locations.
Throughout the journey, you’re essentially skating through the clouds thanks to a floaty movement system. Grinding rails, boosting to reach a collection of gems, and occasionally grappling forward, all keep your momentum in check as you freely navigate through each different locale.
While Solar Ash typically controls well, there is the odd occasion where these mechanics can feel a little too flimsy. Every few minutes I found myself missing a certain line for one reason or another and having to double back, often through rather lengthy platforming sections.
Similarly, combat also plays out in a rather unsatisfying way as simply mashing an attack button is all there is to it.
When you’re in range of a foe, something that’s needlessly difficult to figure out, you can swipe away at just about everything in two or three hits. There’s not a great deal of progression or growth throughout the journey in this regard.
Instead, it’s in a handful of enormous boss-fight-esque sequences where Solar Ash is the most fun as a video game. Broken down into three stages, each of these encounters serves as a time trial in which you’re scaling a giant creature and putting every mechanic to work all at once. Think Shadow of the Colossus in terms of scope with gameplay reminiscent of Jet Set Radio.
As a phenomenal soundtrack comes into effect, one that definitely doesn’t get enough air time throughout the experience, these intense moments are a stark contrast to the more tame exploration found through the rest of the game.
A steep asking price to enter this dreamscape
While the game itself is clearly a blast to sit back and relax with, Solar Ash isn’t the easiest recommendation just yet. Launching at $57.99 here in Australia, it’s one of the more expensive indie games I’ve played in recent years. While it is a visual treat, traversal is often fun, and unraveling the core mystery will keep you hooked, it may be worth holding off for an eventual price drop.
Outside of hunting down a small handful of secrets, you may have missed on your initial run-through, there’s nothing drawing you back in.
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That’s not to say every game needs to be overflowing with collectibles, challenges, and the like. Far from it. But for the price point here, it’s hard to recommend over plenty of more affordable titles of similar quality.
If you’re desperately seeking a new escape, one that’s an inventive story will have you guessing until the credits roll, Solar Ash is a great pickup. Its level design and the freedom within combined with gorgeous artwork and a magnificent soundtrack make it a genuine treat to play.
Rating – 7.5/10
Though occasional control setbacks, fairly mindless combat, limited replayability, and a steep price tag to boot, are all valid reasons to wait for a sale.
Reviewed on PC.