Remember the good old days of gathering your friends together on the couch for an intense multiplayer session? Indie outfit Matt Makes Games – a one-man development team comprised of Matt Thorson – has created a 2D action multiplayer title named TowerFall Ascension, where players practice the art of archery. This is actually an updated version of the former Ouya exclusive – but does it hit a bullseye on the PlayStation 4?

The game consists of three modes: Versus, Quest (which is new to this version), and Trials. In the Quest area, you’ll tackle 11 stages in single player or co-op, where you must overcome various different enemy types using one of four characters. These all have unique characteristics, and you’ll unlock more as you progress through the adventure.

The controls are extremely simple: you use the d-pad or left analogue stick to move and aim, while the face buttons and triggers allow you to jump, fire, and evade. As simple as the controls may be, though, mastering the game’s mechanics is not quite as straightforward. Each stage consists of waves of enemies that you’ll have to clear. These increase as you progress, and you’ll need to play like Robin Hood in order to get through the campaign.

One thing of note is that the combat is immensely rewarding. You’ll start out with three arrows to fire, which you’ll then need to pick up once released. There’s no trajectory line or crosshair when aiming the arrow, so you’ll need to familiarise yourself with the physics. It takes some getting to, but you’ll eventually impress yourself with some of the crazy shots that you perform, and that makes the game particularly gratifying.

We experienced a couple of occasions when our backs were against the wall, but we managed to take out all of our aggressors with a single mid-air shot. It’s these moments that will leave you staring at the screen, jaw agape – and will have you reaching for your DualShock 4’s convenient share button. Don’t worry if you’re out of arrows either, as you’re not completely defenceless. For example, you can stomp on an enemy’s head Super Mario style to thwart them, which is just as fun.

The really interesting thing about combat, though, is how your shots can backfire. If you fire an arrow directly upward and it doesn’t come into contact with an antagonist or obstacle, there’s a chance that it may drop on top of your head, which will wipe you out. It’s important to learn the art of dodging, then, which is executed by tugging the R2 trigger.

This is an incredibly important part of the game, and you’ll need to employ it a lot if you stand any chance of succeeding. It even pushes back an enemy should you use it in close proximity, meaning that you’ll need to employ it regularly to avoid instant death. It also comes in handy when you’re rushing towards a treasure chest, as these contain items which have ability to change the tide of battle. For example, you may acquire a quiver that includes bomb arrows, or even wings that allow you to fly around the arena.

As already alluded, there’s more to the game than the Quest mode, though. In Trial mode, you’ll be tested on how quick and slick your archery skills are. Here, you’ll find yourself in a small area with targets scattered around that you need to hit. Completing these challenges initially seems simple, but you’ll need to really master your abilities to earn the top medals, as some require you to hit multiple targets in three seconds. While simplistic, it’s a fun option, and will help you to sharpen your skills.

However, it’s Versus mode that represents the title’s meat and bones. All of the mechanics discussed above are repurposed in a four-player deathmatch frenzy here, and it’s immensely entertaining. One of the greatest elements of any multiplayer game is its ability to allow you to customise settings, and there are a plethora of options here, ranging from ammo types to items to slow motion and much more. You can even save these customisations once you find your perfect rule set.

It’s incredibly enjoyable, but the only real issue is that it’s restricted to local multiplayer only. It’s undeniably great fun to have that “couch multiplayer” feel, but, realistically, it can be difficult to get your friends gathered together at the same time. It also requires the purchase of at least one other DualShock 4 controller, with a full session requiring a serious amount of investment. This isn’t really the game’s fault per se, but it does feel like a massive oversight.

Still, the title reeks of retro, which is always welcome. The game has some lovely pixel animations, and environments have enough unique foreground and background animations to make them feel fresh. One nice touch is the variety in which the characters die: impale a reaper and they’ll be pinned to the wall, while gooey blob creatures will combust in an instant.

The audio matches this high level of presentational quality, too, with an arrangement of medieval tracks pulled straight out of a retro compilation. Sound effects add to the old-school vibe, with some samples even putting the DualShock 4’s on-board speaker to good use. These are particularly pronounced when you bite the dust or choose a character, and because of the title’s throwback style, the tinny audio quality actually works in the title’s favour.

Conclusion

TowerFall Ascension is a game that relies heavily on your social life. The mechanics are entertaining, the presentation is charming, and the whole affair is top fun – assuming that you have some friends to play with. The lack of an online option is a great shame, but don’t let that deter you from the Quest mode, which is still good fun played solo. You’ll need pals to get the most out of this package, though, as multiplayer is where the release really shines.