Solar Ash is an adventure platforming game from Heart Machine and published by Annapurna Interactive. After the breakout release with Hyper Light Drifter back in 2016, Heart Machine is back with another title, that highlights the studio’s willingness to take risks and create something entirely different from their first title. In our Solar Ash review, we will be going over where the game succeeds, and where it falters.
Story and Writing
Solar Ash follows the story of Rei, a voidrunner tasked with an incredibly difficult job of traversing a massive black hole called the “Ultravoid”, which is pulling her home planet into complete annihilation. Rei must activate a device called the “Starseed” to destroy the Ultravoid. Despite the cards stacked against her, Rei’s persistence, and sense of responsibility push her to do whatever it takes to activate the Starseed and save her people.
Throughout your journey, you will meet different people stranded on the Ultravoid. These characters feel distinct and you will encounter them more than once while you travel to different regions. Unlike most side characters in games, people you meet in Solar Ash aren’t here to further your cause but have their own struggles and ambitions. You feel like a spectator, more than a contributor.
Rei’s own dialogue is well written, and you can see actual growth as the game progresses. While it may seem that the game relies on exposition dumps to fill in the gaps at the start, most of the actual world-building comes from exploration. Audio logs are usually an annoyance in most games, but Solar Ash adds a gameplay incentive by unlocking different outfits for finding these audio logs.
The story and its themes are well presented, but I did feel like there were a few inconsistencies when it came to Rei’s dialogues.
Gameplay and Controls
Solar Ash is heavily inspired by Shadow of the Colossus, Jet Set Radio, and even Super Mario Galaxy. On paper, the combination might sound odd, but it works surprisingly well. Instead of feeling like an ant in Shadow of the Colossus, Solar Ash empowers the player with an incredible sense of movement. You will be skating, boosting, and snapping to different points with ease. The world is designed to make use of your movement skillset, and the game doesn’t add new mechanics either. Some suits improve different elements of your abilities, but you aren’t getting anything new.
This defined skillset allows players to perfect the movement system, which means you’re training as you move. Combat is minimal, and even the harder enemies go down with a few basic hits. Boss fights are the real meat of the gameplay, where your movement skills will be tested. Instead of having to carefully climb and reach weak spots on the huge bosses, players have to run, dash and grapple to different pins and points on the bosses. It’s a feast for the eyes, and fairly cinematic when you’re on something this huge. It does get a tad bit repetitive as only boss really felt a bit different when it comes down to it.
However, before getting to a boss, you need to awaken it. This is done through the exploration of each area in the ultravoid. To awaken a boss, you need to rid different points of the map of some corruption and stab an eye, which awakens one of the eyes in the boss. Yeah, it’s pretty weird. Stabbing these eyes isn’t as easy as it sounds, and there is usually a platforming puzzle you need to solve. Most of the challenge in the game comes from these.
These platforming puzzles aren’t limited to just these awakening points, as a lot of the exploration is tied to it. Each area introduced a distinct mechanic to keep things fresh, and there is never a dull moment.
Visuals and Audio
Solar Ash is a beautiful game and continues to impress as you progress through the campaign. Each new area feels visually distinct and introduces different types of terrain. The deep, saturated pastel-like colors feel right out of Hyper Light Drifter, allowing Heart Machine to retain its iconic visual feel. The transition from 2D to 3D offers many challenges, but the developers have nailed the look of this title.
Adapting to the world’s rotational feel becomes second nature, and you won’t question why you can suddenly sprint vertically. It just works, and the platforming challenges are beautifully interwoven with the world. Characters have distinct colors, and Rei’s suits are all fairly different. This is one of the highlights of our Solar Ash review.
When the world you’re traversing is essentially a giant black hole, you stop questioning why it looks and feels the way it is. Different areas across the Ultravoid are visible from a distance. These give the world a sense of deliberate design.
While the soundtrack isn’t as expansive as Hyper Light Drifter, it is still hard-hitting, and fairly emotional. The deep electronic bass, bells, and haunting tracks will remain with you for a while. Even though Disasterpeace’s involvement was minimal, Solar Ash still has incredible audio direction.
Solar Ash is an emotional game with a lot of heart. It’s a feast for the eyes, with an incredible movement system, and a world built around your core moveset. The story isn’t as consistent, but still wraps up nicely, and Rei is a fairly relatable protagonist burdened with an impossible task. Solar Ash retains the DNA of Hyper Light Drifter but doesn’t shy away from taking huge risks, and most of those pay off in spades.
What did you think of our Solar Ash Review? Have you played it so far? Share your thoughts about it in the comments below
This review is based on the PC version of Solar Ash. The key was provided by Annapurna Interactive