I loved Hyper Light Drifter but I had a problem with the lack of narrative. Heart Machine obviously took that feedback to heart (ha) because Solar Ash has a lot of narrative. But they also reduced a lot of the complexity of gameplay between Drifter and Solar Ash, and the trade-off is where we start getting critical.
Solar Ash is a combination of Shadow of the Colossus and extreme sports. Instead of laboriously climbing enormous monsters to slowly stab them in their weak spots, Solar Ash makes you race from weak point to weak point, or else you’re immediately tossed off and forced to start over. Between giant monster slaying, you also get to explore some really creative and beautiful environments, doing mini versions of the weak point stabbing and collecting the voice logs of the people who came before you.
The weak point runs are part platform puzzle, and part speedrun. It’s either about taking the correct path to hit the weak points or taking the fast path. Even if you know which path to take, you then have to execute on getting there. The good news is that game is fairly forgiving. I rarely felt cheated out of run.
Solar Ash also gives you everything you’re going to use to play the game upfront. There are no mechanical upgrades. If you see something that looks out of reach, it’s not. You can reach it one way or another. This was something that wasn’t entirely clear to me, and I kept expecting a new ability that I never got. I found that revelation, when it came, fairly refreshing. Instead of waffling back and forth on whether I was an idiot or just not far enough along, I knew I had the tools to get something done and I just had to figure it out.
But how about that narrative? It’s got voice acting! It’s got a story! And the core plot is pretty coherent. But it’s also super heavy on in-game jargon that I can’t repeat without sounding like I’m doing Star Trek style technobabble. Your world is going to be consumed by a black hole, you have a tool to stop this, and you need to activate the tool to do that. To go any further than that, I’d have to explain the Ultravoid, the Starseed, the Remnants, the Voidrunners, and that’s ignoring the side stories. I was 90% of the way through the game and I was still questioning where this story was going, but it became rather clear at the end.
Solar Ash is a simpler game than Hyper Light Drifter, with a narrative that’s far more obtuse than it needs to be. The gameplay was plenty to motivate me to get through it, but if you’re here for the story and don’t enjoy the core gameplay, you might feel pushed away before it wraps up.