Solar Ash begins by dropping protagonist Rei onto a strange alien planet. Rei is a Voidrunner, one of a group of explorers sent to the Ultravoid to harvest something called the Starseed that could save their dying planet. As she arrives, we see brief flashes of an imposing, godlike figure that looks suspiciously similar to Rei — it’s familiar, but twisted.
In a sense, that’s how all of Solar Ash plays out. Familiar mechanics come together for something that feels off-kilter in the most exciting way. The gameplay ideas are so different from one another, but they add up to something much greater than the sum of its parts. Solar Ash is fast, fresh, and frantic in the best way possible.
At its core, Solar Ash is a game about movement. Rei can walk around, but doing so won’t get you past the platforming challenges that litter the alien landscape. You’ll be using her skate ability for the duration of the game, gliding along clouds and rooftops at high speed. The movement feels a lot like Jet Set Radio’s own inline skating. Rei’s boosters kick things up a notch, making you move even faster for a short time. Maintaining this speed is essential for clearing each challenge, though an ability called Timeslip can also temporarily slow down the entire game, allowing for more precise jumps. This makes Solar Ash feel like a roller coaster, as you constantly ramp up, briefly pause, then launch yourself again — it’s an exciting rhythm.
Running isn’t the only tool at Rei’s disposal: climbing is also a key mechanic. Rei’s grappling hook can latch onto ledges or floating points to fling her forward, and its reach is extended whenever Timeslip is activated. The various biomes are also covered in black ooze, “anomalies” as the story calls them, that are an important part of the platforming. Rei can climb any surface covered in ooze, but its stickiness also brings her to a near-halt if she runs across it. Rei can also cling to rails, which send her to the tops of buildings and around cliffs as they snake over the landscape. Gravity shifts with the rails as well as certain platforms, letting Rei run around curved areas in all directions à la Super Mario Galaxy, wrapping the camera around with her to reveal new perspectives. All of this plays into the game’s non-stop pace.
Fast-paced pummeling & platforming
These movement mechanics are fully engaged during combat and exploration. Timeslip can help you dodge enemy attacks, and boosting can get you right into their faces to deliver a sword slash. Rei isn’t the most durable of heroes; her shields can only take a few hits, even when fully upgraded. Solar Ash again demands speed from the player to win in these scraps, even if combat isn’t a huge focus of the game.
Where these mechanics really shine is in Solar Ash’s platforming challenges. Each biome is beset with anomalies that must be cleared. The formula for clearing each anomaly is the same: you must hit syringe-like weak points in rapid succession. An on-screen timer denotes when the next weak point will vanish, resulting in the black ooze heating up to dangerous levels that can melt your shields if you happen to be touching it. Hitting every weak point correctly is like nailing a skate line in the Tony Hawk games, as you follow the perfect route along rails, across gaps, up ledges, and so on. There is a great amount of satisfaction in slicing each weak point and clearing the crud, hyped up further by a great animation of Rei victoriously piercing her weapon into the final node.
Ash of the Colossus
Clearing every anomaly in an area awakens the boss. These massive creatures, known as Remnants, are reminiscent of the towering titans in Shadow of the Colossus — and they’re fought in a similar manner. Each one is covered in weak points, which Rei must destroy in succession. Like the platforming challenges, you’ll have to skate along and scale these beasts to hit each one: you’ll be grinding along tails and climbing the backs of the Remnants as you topple them. Fail to do so before the timer runs out, and you’ll be knocked back to the ground to start the process over. The camera occasionally makes this more difficult than it needs to be sometimes. It wraps around the boss’s figure just as it would if you were moving around a sphere, and this can obscure the critical path you need to take to the next weak point.
Over the course of three rounds, each boss uses new attacks and exposes different weak point patterns, making each fight as varied as the anomalies. The excitement from those is even stronger when a Remnant is defeated. Rei plunges her blade into the boss to bring it down, with even more flair than when she clears an anomaly.
An alien world
For as menacing as the bosses can be, the planet they protect is quite beautiful. Like developer Heart Machine’s previous game, Hyper Light Drifter, Solar Ash has a striking art style, dominated by royal purples, neon pinks, and soft sky blues. While those are the dominant shades, each biome still feels and looks very distinct — you won’t confuse the poisonous Mirrorsea with the dank, mushroom-filled Eternal Garden, for example.
With each biome come new environmental challenges too. The aforementioned poison in the Mirrorsea is deadly if you linger on it too long, and the Eternal Garden’s mushroom spores must be quickly carried to locked doors to open the way forward. In this way, the platforming challenges don’t feel repetitive, and they continually ramp up in difficulty as you near the end-game areas.
Influences from other games are quite present in Solar Ash — Tony Hawk’s line-following, Super Mario Galaxy’s wraparound camera, Shadow of the Colossus’s massive bosses. While those together may seem incongruous, they come together to make it an exciting, fast-paced platformer that gives you the tools to move smoothly and complete the challenges before you. It’s so satisfying to nail those obstacle courses, clear anomalies, and topple skyscraping Remnants. The roller coaster of Solar Ash is well worth riding.
9 / 10
|+||Skating around at high speed feels incredible|
|+||Challenges constantly ramp up and don’t get stale|
|+||Immense satisfaction in overcoming Remnants and anomalies|
|–||The camera is sometimes unhelpful during boss fights|