It has only been five years since Super light drifter released, but it seems much longer. Fans immediately fell in love with the pixel-art action game, instantly elevating it to the indie games hall of fame. This made the wait for developer Heart Machine’s follow-up particularly long, as if we’ve been waiting over a decade for him to deliver another instant classic.
Heart Machine isn’t looking to do the same trick twice, and that became clear when I attended a demo event for its long-awaited follow-up, Solar ash. Although its colors and atmosphere are familiar, the developer has made some fundamental changes to its style. Solar ash does not compose on the hack-and-slash action like its predecessor. Instead, it’s all about movement, even during its most action-packed moments.
Figure skating in space
Solar ash is a 3D action-adventure game where players explore beautiful and surreal spaces. Despite the landing Super light drifterThe signature pixel style of for smooth 3D textures, it is always immediately recognizable as a Heart Machine game with its deep purples. Even its main character feels cut from the same fabric as the wanderer.
The two games really start to go their separate ways as soon as the main character, Rei, starts moving. She mostly skates around the world, as if she were traveling on rollerblades. In the first few moments of the demo, I saw her hurtling down a cloudy slope. She quickly climbs up a slope, smashes a boulder to get resources, and begins to land on a huge alien rib cage rising out of the clouds.
The movement only accelerated as the demo progressed, with Rei seamlessly stringing several actions together. In one room, she rushes up a staircase, flicks a light switch, straps across one space to shut off another, and twists in the air to stab an eye-shaped door. It all goes like a cosmic figure skating routine.
While Solar ash Strongly favors the fluid platform in combat, players always have enemies to cut down. However, even battles are more about movement than stacking hits (there is no combo counter or scoring system in the game). The demoist doesn’t stop to fight an enemy but rather throws Rei at him mid-skate, using his momentum to continue in a series of slashes. The developers note that enemies play an important role in crossing puzzles, either as obstacles or as signals for where players should move next.
The most exciting moment in the demo comes at the very end when Rei runs into a boss. In tribute to Super mario galaxy, Rei lands on a small planet that she can travel entirely. A giant monster is landing on the planet – and we’re talking really big. It’s a centipede-like black beast with a large bony spine covering it. In order to hurt her, Rei jumps onto her back and begins to dash from vertebrae to vertebrae. While moving, she cuts beacons, preventing the monster from knocking her down. After successfully snaking around her body, she finds a weak spot and plunges a stick into it.
The sequence recalls Shadow of the colossus, where Rei must navigate a full scale combat puzzle to win. Just replace slow, careful climbing with fast skating. Heart Machine notes that the monster I’ve seen is actually the smallest in the game by far, so Rei will be skating on some pretty gargantuan creatures on her journey.
Heart Machine mentioned the speedrun at various points in the demo, and that inspiration really shows. The tracks I saw were fast and smooth, with Rei rarely stopping to move except to talk to an NPC or upgrade his gear. The game also features timed challenges, requiring players to master its movement to keep going. There is a moment during the demo session that best sums up what players can expect from Solar ash. At one point, a developer himself summons the master of speed, Sonic, joking that she “has to go fast.”
Solar ash launches October 26 for PlayStation 4, PS5, and PC through the Epic Games Store.
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