Developed By: One More Dream Studios
Published By: Team17
Category: Platformer, Puzzle, Adventure
Release Date: 07.28.20
Ageless for the Nintendo Switch is a puzzle-platformer from Malaysian developer One More Dream Studios that has drawn comparisons to crazy-popular indie sensation Celeste from several sources I have seen, mostly due to the similarity of the two games’ genre and graphical style. I haven’t played Celeste, so I can’t make any credible comparisons myself, but most articles I’ve read making the comparison have Celeste coming out ahead. I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to judge Ageless on how it compares to that game, because it does a lot of great things on its own. Unfortunately, it has a couple of very small issues and one big issue that really hold it back from being a completely positive experience.
Kiara is a lost soul looking for some purpose in life. She follows rumors of a magical gate said to grant special powers to individuals who can find it, thinking her direction will become clear if the gate finds her worthy. When she does, she gains the power to manipulate the age of plants and animals – but the purpose she seeks still somehow eludes her. Armed with her newfound abilities, and the same old doubts, Kiara sets off into the world to find a purpose for her great power and her life. It’s a good story about a young woman trying to find a place in the world, but it’s marred a little bit by some weirdly constructed grammar that leads to the dialogue lacking a natural flow.
For the most part, that basic mechanics of Ageless play like most platformers. You can run, jump, and wall jump to move around the screen right from the start. Upon gaining her time-bending powers, Kiara can shoot a bow and arrow at plants or animals to age or de-age them. Animals have five levels of growth, each of which offer different abilities for moving around or through obstacles. Plants have varying levels – many are binary grown/ungrown, while some have multiple levels that offer several different abilities like turning them into jumping pads. You can also enter ageless mode, which lets you absorb one level of age from a plant or animal to launch yourself in one of eight directions. Using this ability on animals will launch said animal in the opposite direction of your dash. It’s a really fun, simple-to-learn system that is used to create some very complex, challenging, and rewarding puzzles… for the most part. Aiming the bow can be a little finicky, which gets annoying when you encounter a puzzle that really requires tight timing to overcome. It’s an issue, but it’s not enough to overshadow the game’s positive points.
The first area of the game is a mostly a long tutorial, but it proceeds at a very natural pace. It provides a smooth way to learn the basics of the game’s mechanics and work out some strategies for manipulating plants and animals around the screen at your own pace. Until, that is, you hit the final leg of the world. The boss fight at the end of the first world presented a frankly OBSCENE spike in difficulty over anything the game had prepared me for. In the boss fight, you’re chased by a guardian of the gate who is ludicrously fast compared to Kiara, and you have to keep getting it to run into walls and barriers as you try to outrun it.
Such an insane jump in difficulty was extremely offputting for me so early in the game, and I imagine it will be for many players as well. It was by far the most challenging boss fight in the whole darn game for me; it was so frustrating that if I hadn’t been reviewing it, I think I may have simply stopped playing the game at that point. I’m glad I kept going, but the frustration of that experience stayed with me for the rest of the game, and I have to admit it kind of tarnished the whole thing a little bit. This was also where the somewhat twitchy aiming controls became the biggest issue. Boss fights in Ageless generally require a bit of trial-and error to overcome, but none had as insanely oppressive a ticking clock as that first one.
And it’s a shame that this early boss fight frustration will probably out many players off, because they’ll be missing out on some absolutely gorgeous 8-bit inspired pixel graphics. The first world has a fairly simple but attractive fantasy forest motif, but it pales in comparison to how gorgeous the game gets once you leave the first area. Subsequent levels enjoy lushly detailed background graphics and smoothly animated character sprites that are simply beautiful. The music takes me back all the way to my NES days, grinding out levels in whatever Mega Man game I was enjoying at the time. The soundtrack is up-tempo and energizing, even in levels where the puzzle-solving elements don’t exactly encourage a surge of adrenaline.
Just based on how much I liked the graphics, I really wanted to like Ageless a lot. As the game introduced its puzzle mechanics I saw and experienced a lot that I liked from the gameplay; the puzzles naturally grew in challenge level and required some inventive solutions. I had some small issues with aiming Kiara’s bow and arrow, but for the most post that wasn’t enough to tarnish the overall experience because I just loved the graphics and music so darn much. Unfortunately, running full-speed into the brick wall that was the first boss level really left a sour taste in my mouth for the rest of the game, and I can’t imagine myself having stuck with the game if I was playing it for my own enjoyment after that. If you pick this one up, get ready to have to slog through that if you want to get to the best things Ageless has to offer.
Digital – $14.99
*A game code was provided for review purposes.