Both Nintendo’s Metroid and Konami’s Castlevania were so widely acclaimed when they made their debut back in the 90s, that they both were able to create a sub-genre in the action/adventure platformer category. Passionately referred to as ‘Metroidvania’ by gamers, titles that use this style have components like procedurally-generated areas that you must find on your own, and back-tracking after getting a new item to open up a previously impassable path. All of these features are present with this small but charming indie-title — Ascent of Kings.
Ascent of Kings has you guiding a young unnamed boy on his quest to become the new king of his homeland after the former king passed. The land has long had a tradition where who takes the throne next is decided by who can ever complete the trail of the ‘Ascent of Kings’; a rigorous journey up a large mountain that’s filled with dangerous and challenging areas.
Since our hero doesn’t have a name, I’ll refer to him as ‘Yellow’ since he wears a bright-yellow shirt. Yellow is the youngest in his family which consists of this father and three older brothers. Yellow’s father gives various items to the three older boys to aid them in their quest, but refuses to let Yellow go because he’s so young and small. Yellow is still determined to prove he can do it, so he takes off after his brothers to the beginning of the quest. The Keeper, an old man who has long overseen the Ascent, stops Yellow at first, but after examining him, he decides to let Yellow go. And so, it begins.
As mentioned before, Ascent of Kings uses the Metroidvania-style for its gameplay. If you’re already familiar with this style, then you’ll recognize it just a few minutes after you start the game. You’ll find yourself running around exploring any and everything that looks like a new path. For the most part, you’re left unaided. Thankfully, there are little signs that are posted here and there which will give short bits of advice and hints. The Wii U GamePad acts as a map, but you won’t see a new area until you’ve visited it. The more areas you visit, the bigger the maps gets, thus encouraging you to explore more and more.
Back-tracking is a common feature of this game, as mentioned before as it is a part of the Metroidvania-style. You’ll find various items which will grant you new abilities that are needed to gain access to a lot of new areas. In addition to this, you can expect to do solve a lot of puzzles. While they aren’t necessarily difficult, they can be rather challenging. For the most part, it’s more of a matter of having fast reflexes than actually doing a lot of thinking. Either way, this game is all about pacing yourself, observing and wandering. It’s fairly easy to get engrossed in the experience, and that’s a good thing.
Ascent of King‘s good use of the Metroidvania-style is further complimented by its overall presentation. Both its visuals and sound-work are clearly inspired by titles of the 8-bit era. While several indie-titles have taken this route, Ascent of Kings has switched things up just a little bit with the use of soft shadows which makes the already vivid colors pop. The soundtrack is fairly simple and small, but each bit of music fits the situation. You’ll be so busy wandering around that you may not even notice it. It’s certainly nothing on the lines of Mega Man 2’s Dr. Wiley’s Stage, but it’s decent nonetheless.
In the end, Ascent of Kings is a neat little love letter to retro adventure-platformers. It’s simplified use of the Metroidvania-style will give newcomers a decent crash course to the genre, allowing for deeper experiences to be better enjoyed in the future.
Just because it’s simplified, doesn’t mean that it’s a simple game, mind you. After all, you are trying to become the new King; of course it won’t be simple. That’s what makes this title so charming. With its pleasant visuals and nice soundtrack to back it up, Nostatic Software has cooked up a nice little retro adventure that’s definitely worth the more than generous $1.99 price-tag.