What’s Good About Solar Ash
Solar Ash is the second game by the indie studio Heart Machine, the developer behind possibly one of my favorite games of the last decade, Hyper Light Drifter. When it was first revealed, I saw Solar Ash and proceeded to get all hype and go “I’m gonna get this and this looks Hyper Light Drifter as fuck”. But more than that, it’s an interesting and incredibly weird game that interestingly tells its story.
You play as Rei, a Voidrunner who finds herself on the scraps of a destroyed alien world, looking to use an ancient device called the Starseed to destroy the Ultravoid, a supermassive black hole that has Rei’s planet in its gravitational pull. To do this, you need to fight your way through the Remnants, a horde of monsters that look like if the Creatures of Grimm from RWBY went full Lovecraftian Nightmare. While there are a small group of characters (who are all voiced wonderfully), the story is largely told through audio logs and journal entries of the destroyed landscapes and is more interested in giving Vibes than telling a sprawling narrative for the most part. But it’s all very good between the well-written and voiced logs and journal, as well as Rei interacting with the AI collective known as CYD.
The visuals are the big thing that stuck out and aid in the aforementioned giving off of vibes. It all looks so ethereal, dreamlike, and fucking weird from the destroyed architecture, the floating cliffs, to even the monsters themselves being white bone carapaces being animated by sentient black ooze. It does a lot to sell the idea of what’s at stake and to highlight how wild and weird some of the things in this setting are.
The game’s structure goes down as you travel area to area to power up each of the Star Seed’s by awakening the massive Remnant in each area and then doing a combination obstacle course/stabbing the heck out of its weak points with a bit of Shadow of the Colossus thrown in for good measure. It’s all enabled by the main gameplay hook of the game: skating. While you can move at a normal pace to get to where you need to go, you can do so much faster by holding down the left trigger to skate around the environment at a drastically faster pace. This is your main mode of transportation and is more or less what the entire game is built around, from the platforming to the exploration to even the combat. AS someone who likes to play a decent amount of platformers that also have some interesting movement capabilities, Solar Ash’s skating is possibly some of the best I’ve seen since all of the creative uses of Cappy in Super Mario Odyssey. And this is before taking the Timeskip feature into account. This ability allows you to stop time for a few seconds and also makes it so that you can get to grappling hook points much faster, it’s fucking sick.
The game also moves at a solid and consistent pace and based on getting through almost half of it in two days, it’s pretty short and this is me speculating since I’ve clocked in nearly 4 and a half hours of playtime. And this is without getting into the collectible aspects of finding the other Voidrunners logs, which unlock their suits for use in-game and grant special abilities on top of all having varying different aesthetics and designs that offer some nice variety.
Solar Ash as a video game offers almost dreamlike visuals and a melancholic, but hopeful story mixed with some of the most interesting 3D platforming style gameplay I’ve seen in a very long time. If you got some time to kill and just like your games to offer up vibes more than anything else, check it out. It’s a good time.