Towerfall Review / Version tested: PC / Release date: March 11 (US), March 14 (UK)
Five seconds is all TowerFall needs to win your heart. This multiplayer-focused arena-brawler is archery's answer to Bomberman; carefree, easily comprehensible and instantly intoxicating.
The concept is basic but never brainless. Up to four players are thrown into boxed 2D arenas with a bow and three arrows to fling at opponents. If an arrow misses its desired target, combatants will need to fetch their projectile before an opponent snatches it.
Don't be fooled by the simplicity - a deep reservoir of strategy lies beneath the surface. It takes just one match, which usually lasts about a minute, for the mind to transform into an open-door repository of battle strategies, platforming tips and bow tactics. A couple more skirmishes later and players will have learned enough to have a fighting chance against seasoned pros.
It's as if the last twenty-five years of gaming has led us all to this point. TowerFall calls upon our institutionalised knowledge of games and builds an entire deathmatch experience around those raw skills.
"Don't be fooled by the simplicity - an endlessly deep reservoir of strategy lies beneath the surface"
Yes, of course you can beat an opponent by jumping on their head. Yes, you can parry shots and catch arrows. Yes, you can lay traps, land wall-jumps and escape through tunnels. Yes, there are special bonus items locked inside glittering treasure chests.
The pace in which players acquire these skills is incredible. TowerFall's boundless complexities are absorbed faster than it takes other games to finish their opening button tutorial segment. Yet even at the tenth hour, players will still be learning new ways to overcome their opponents.
Throughout it all, you'll gaze in awe. TowerFall is unusually beautiful; it's as though lead artist Pedro Medeiros designed the world from his own fantastical, rose-tinted view of the 16-Bit era.
Clever thinking pervades the design of everything, with the hallmark of careful consideration found on every single object and visual motif. Like the way a faint light glows from each character, or the small fizz of confetti that trails each jump. The mocking wiggle of an arrow that misses an opponent and lands in a wall, or the way bodies snap back when struck. Even the character selection screen, which bobbles and shimmers as you interact with it, feels satisfyingly plush.
These nuanced visual tricks, of which so many populate every single frame it begins to undermine the word 'subtle', help achieve an overall production quality that even Nintendo would be proud of. That elusive emptiness that haunts most third-party games, whatever you call it, is not present here.
Local multiplayer lies at the heart of TowerFall, but there is a surprisingly robust campaign mode too - one that is mercilessly difficult and rewarding. However, at an elemental level it is nevertheless a string of multiplayer maps filled with hordes of AI opponents, and one can't help but fantasise what a bespoke platform-adventure would have added to the mix.
There's also a debate to be had about the lack of online multiplayer. Street Fighter IV proved there can be no excuses about latency problems for even the twitchiest of fighting games, and yet it's not present here.
"TowerFall is unusually beautiful. Clever thinking pervades the design of everything"
Perhaps it's a blessing in disguise. TowerFall makes a compelling argument that multiplayer games are at their best when they force friends to gather around a couch. Those were the conditions in which we fell in love with the elite multiplayer games of the past, the timeless classics such as Bomberman, Street Fighter, GoldenEye, Halo, Smash Bros and Mario Kart.
As games industry continues its transition to an online-only age, TowerFall is possibly the final game to join that elite list.
Intoxicating, immediate and distractingly beautiful, Towerfall is destined to be remembered as one of the best multiplayer games of the generation
- Simple yet endlessly deep
- Sumptuous graphics and audio
- Respectable single-player mode
- Exceptionally refined multiplayer
- Offline-only multiplayer will deter some