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Like the strange, ravenous rift upon which our hero Rei finds herself, Solar Ash is an ethereal and unexpected fusion of many different games and genres. There are echoes of Super Mario Galaxy, Sonic Adventure, Jet Set Radio, and Shadow Of The Colossus, to name just a few.
But this new sci-fi adventure from Hyper Light Drifter studio Heart Machine is so much more than a random mish-mash of various influences. It is a bold and frequently brilliant journey in its own right, one that is as fascinating and beautiful as it is punishing and outright terrifying. Solar Ash is one of 2021’s best games - and undoubtedly its coolest by some distance.
Solar Ash takes place in the heart of a swirling rift known as the Ultravoid, a monstrous anomaly that tears through the universe consuming all matter. Rei is the latest Voidrunner to journey into it in the hopes of finding a way to put a stop to it once and for all. It’s pure sci-fi nonsense from the beginning, and all the better for it.
As Rei explores the remains of various civilizations gobbled up by the Ultravoid, she’ll uncover intriguing (and often heartbreaking) accounts of those who came before her and tried, in vain, to avert their fates. The vast majority of this content is entirely optional, but stumbling across piles of bodies and audio logs from desperate survivors in their final moments is harrowing stuff that lends a much greater sense of urgency to Rei’s mission.
Gameplay has a rewarding, if repetitive, rhythm. There are a handful of large open-world areas all scattered across Ultravoid's Mario Galaxy-esque planetoid. Rei explores these one at a time, essentially following waypoints to destroy anomalies via some slick platforming puzzles before summoning a massive area boss who is taken down in much the same way.
If it sounds basic, that’s because it kind of… is. But that repetition rarely matters, given that Solar Ash shines in its wonderfully stylish gameplay. Movement through the world feels like a slick combination of Jet Set Radio, Sonic Adventure, and Hyper Light Drifter. Rei can glide and boost and grind over the ruins of these forgotten worlds - and you’d best believe you’ll need to learn to string these skills together to progress through its many environmental challenges and boss fights.
The bosses in particular are a real highlight. These are hulking alien creatures that are as awe-inspiring in their magnificence as they are difficult to conquer. There’s more than a little of Shadow Of The Colossus in these encounters, as Rei first has to make her way to each monster before climbing aboard them and performing a series of well-timed sword-strikes, jumps, and dashes to take them out.
It can be a little frustrating at times. Occasionally fiddly controls make it too easy to overshoot certain platforms, and making even a small mistake will see you thrown from a boss and forced to chase them down again before having another go. But when it all comes together and you’re gracefully gliding across a behemoth having learned its patterns and weaknesses while the game’s otherworldly synth-heavy soundtrack soars? That’s when Solar Ash truly sings.
For the most part Solar Ash's impeccable style more than makes up for its weaknesses. The Ultravoid is a stunning prog-rock album cover come to life, and skating through it to uncovering its many secrets is rarely anything other than a complete joy. If it were a little longer, I fear its flaws would have become too much to ignore. But at a brisk seven-hours, Solar Ash is a perfectly paced adventure that's well worth your time.
Pros: Absolutely gorgeous, stellar soundtrack, boss battles are a joy
Cons: Occasionally fiddly controls can really hold things back sometimes
For fans of: Hyper Light Drifter, Jet Set Radio, Sonic Adventure
Solar Ash is available now for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, and PC. Code for review was supplied by the publisher. Find a guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here.
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