Astral Ascent: The Next Best Roguelite Is Here – Early Access Preview

Astral Ascent is a 2D roguelite platformer that shows the genre is not out of new ideas just yet. I knew after loading up Astral Ascent and seeing the gorgeous hand-drawn characters on the start screen and hearing the first notes of its immensely beautiful soundtrack, that this game has been made with true passion. After multiple runs exploring the world, I can confidently say that Astral Ascent is a must-buy for roguelite fans everywhere.

Astral Ascent - Boss
Image Credit – Hibernian Workshop

“As it unfolds, you’ll find yourself completely engrossed and unable to put this wonderful game down.”

In Astral Ascent you play as one of four powerful and extremely well-designed heroes. It is your job to escape a prison known as The Garden and free everyone trapped inside. The only issue: standing in your way are the Zodiacs, 12 terrifying mystical bosses based on Zodiac signs – hence the name. By using each of the playable characters’ unique abilities and through accepting the help of your friends in the hub world, you’ll manage to break out of the prison and finally be free.

Despite the seemingly simple narrative setup, you can rest assured that the storytelling and character development is truly exceptional. Through talking to the various characters and bosses you’ll uncover a much deeper layer to the narrative. As it unfolds, you’ll find yourself completely engrossed and unable to put this wonderful game down.

Astral Ascent - Dialogue
In-game Screenshot

Fortunately, assisting you through the narrative is one of the most supportive and interesting characters in gaming. They all have their own distinct personalities and enough depth to keep casual encounters feeling fresh and exciting each and every time. Additionally, after every outing into the dangerous dungeons, they will help you with upgrades, challenges and even new spells to take into your next run. How helpful!

“Each voice actor helps bring individuality to their character, and their designs help flesh them out with intricate details.”

Each character is immediately relatable and identifiable with distinct outfits or features that link with their personality. You’ll meet the Poetic Peddlers whose slow voice gives you poetic advice before seeing his wares. Or Oloon, whose standout outfit with its quirky colours and her amazing hair make her one of the most affable characters in the game. These simple things make meeting each new character a joy to experience.

Fortunately, this level of quality is extended to the main cast. Ayla, the first character you’ll get to play as, is a mysterious assassin who wishes to break from the prison. Brilliantly voiced by Amber Lee Conners, she is an immensely likeable character filled with a bubbly sense of charm. This is absolutely the case with every character. Each of their voice actors helps to bring individuality to the characters, and their designs help flesh them out with intricate details.

In-game Screenshot

Of course, the bosses, those deadly bad guys that’ll take up much of your time have had so much care and attention put into them too. Each of the Zodiacs has such a distinct attitude and design that even though they will be booting you back to the beginning constantly, you will still love each and every one of them and will be happy to see them spawn in to stop your run.

“Astral Ascent’s level of progression also greatly encourages multiple runs, meaning that you’ll often find yourself wanting to play just that little bit longer.”

Fortunately, Astral Ascent’s gameplay is just as incredible as its narrative and characters. It perfectly captures the many wonderful elements of a traditional roguelite and blends it with the slick and pixel-perfect movement of a classic platformer. Playing this gorgeous game is such an immensely rewarding experience, that I found it near impossible to resist.

You’ll navigate between rooms defeating enemies to earn currency, spells and power-ups to increase your stats and experience. Every new spell you unlock is not only creative in terms of its design but also feels fresh and new. Rarely did I encounter something that I didn’t feel an immense sense of satisfaction. This level of progression also greatly encourages multiple runs, meaning that you’ll often find yourself wanting to play just that little bit longer.

Astral Ascent - Combat
Image Credit – Hibernian Workshop

However, fear not as Astral Ascent is not an easy game. While you do frequently gain new abilities through your various runs, you’ll encounter challenging encounters frequently enough. Even should you manage to get past the tricker of rooms, boss battles create a roadblock that tests just how far you’ve become proficient in the game’s core mechanics.

That isn’t to say that Astral Ascent isn’t completely unforgiving. With each run, fight and ultimately death, you’ll learn about enemies’ move sets and timings, and will eventually become adept at vanquishing them. Because Astral Ascent’s combat is so fluid and fun, fighting through room after room never gets boring and I found it impossible to tire of its engrossingly exciting gameplay.

“Enemy designs stand out against the backdrops, thus ensuring combat remains fair at all times.”

There were a few times when I felt the game was a tad too difficult. Take for example Leo, who can spin his axe around like a Beyblade and chase you around the arena. Getting caught in it for a second is painful as he can get multiple hits in, making it very hard to recover. However, every other attack I died to felt fair and was absolutely a result of me simply spamming the attack button.

In-game Screenshot

Before starting Astral Ascent I was worried that its pixel art style would hold it back as it might obscure various attacks and make them hard to see against the backdrops. However, it completely avoids this as every attack, character and background has been so meticulously designed to work in conjunction with one another that this was never an issue for me. Additionally, its enemy designs stand out against the backdrops making their telegraphed attacks noticeable, thus ensuring combat remains fair at all times.

“From start to finish, Astral Ascent is a near-perfect experience that I simply could not get enough of.”

I also want to acknowledge the game’s marvellous soundtrack. It simultaneously manages to capture the feeling of each moment perfectly. It ensures that anything from deadly encounters to narrative moments feel as impactful or as cheerful as they need to. From the relaxing melodies of The Garden to the grand orchestral compositions of the zodiac duels, each track is sublime. Knowing I got to listen to these songs again made having to go back to the beginning a joy. The music in Astral Ascent is an absolute standout and makes the entire experience a masterpiece.

In-game Screenshot

Astral Ascent absolutely stands at the top of the roguelite genre. With its brilliant cast, jaw-dropping visuals, exciting combat and magnificent soundtrack, it’s almost impossible to fault it. From start to finish, Astral Ascent is a near-perfect experience that I simply could not get enough of. I can confidently recommend this to both fans and newcomers to the roguelite genre. This is not one to sleep on.

You can pick up Astral Ascent on Steam for $24.99/£19.99.

*Disclaimer: Reviewed on PC, code was provided by the Publisher.

Astral Ascent - Feature Image
Astral Ascent Early Access Preview
Summary
Astral Ascent wows from the moment you boot it up with its jaw-dropping visuals and magnificent soundtrack. Its captivating narrative, charming cast of characters and extremely exciting combat makes it one of the best roguelites ever made. This is an easy recommendation for anyone looking for an enjoyable and engrossing indie experience.
Pros
Gorgeous visuals
Magnificent soundtrack
Satisfying progression
Engrossing combat
Charming characters
Cons
Some challenging combat encounters
9