Title: Astalon: Tears of the Earth
Developer: LABS Works
Release Date: June 3, 2021
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Dangen Entertainment
Genre: 2D Action Platformer
Rarely does a game release that I want to tell everyone about, Astalon: Tears of the Earth happens to be one of those games. While it mimics the retro titles of our past, it so brilliantly combines it with unique systems, intricate level design, and an addictive gameplay.
Astalon: Tears of the Earth tells the story of three warriors who are trying to save their town, which is currently overrun with disease from a strange poison. Their quest leads them to a tower full of evil that will test their abilities as they fight to cure their people and make it out alive. The story may not have depth on the surface, but the more you play, the more you get to understand these characters.
After your first inevitable death, you learn that Algus has made a pact with the Titan of Death. In exchange for his soul, he’ll have endless tries to climb the tower. Each time you die, you meet the titan who offers you a chance to purchase upgrades and abilities for Algus and the two other characters, Arias and Kyuli. Each has their own separate stats and skills to learn, but features like map knowledge and item descriptions can be learned as a group.
This sets up the game loop of pushing your way through the castle and trying to get as far as you can. If you die, you’ll be sent to the beginning of the castle to start again. The means of quick travel comes by elevators that you unlock throughout the journey, but they are few and far between. This means you’ll be exploring a few of the same rooms over and over, and maybe more if you die a lot.
However, with death comes opportunities because the enemies you defeat along the way drop orbs that can be used to purchase better stats for your characters. Each character has a unique weapon and discovered abilities that make them necessary for some sections of the tower. Such as Kyuli being able to jump off a wall, or Arias using his sword to reflect enemy attacks.
To switch characters, players must make their way to a campsite. This is also where you can save your game, but randomly you’ll be able to rest, which unlocks a story scene between the characters and a chance to recover some much-needed health. These story scenes show just how close this group is through shared inside jokes and anecdotes about their previous endeavors.
Each area contains a set of puzzles that have you interact with the environment.
Heath is rarely found in the game, which brings me to the challenge of this adventure. Although upgrading is a choice, you will face off against some pretty tough enemies. Even enemies found at the beginning of the game will put up a fight, but they do become more challenging. Frustration is kept to a minimum, though, only because received damage is almost always the player’s fault.
Controls are so smooth and simple to understand that if you walk into an enemy attack or fall into a bed of spikes, a slow response from the player almost always causes it. These characters aren’t the most agile; their movement can even be considered stiff if you are holding the attack button, limiting the character’s movement, but rains sword slashes or other attacks. Still, it’s something that you become used to quickly and can attribute back to the retro influences.
Exploration is a huge part of this adventure as the developer wants you to explore everything. There are dozens of different tomb-like areas to get lost in that typically end with finding a special item or stat-up. Anywhere you go, you’ll be rewarded, and it creates this amazing sense of discovery at times because some areas are not so easy to find. Further, each area contains a set of puzzles that have you interact with the environment.
It’s honestly brilliant in execution because you aren’t only paying attention to the enemies, but you’re also always looking out for possible hidden paths or secret triggers for extra orbs. Typically, if you do get somewhere you aren’t supposed to be, a locked door will hinder your progression. While there are different sets of keys that can be used, you’ll also have to defeat bosses to receive Eyes of Gorgon that opens new areas.
an unexpected masterpiece of retro designs
Bosses are daunting but not unbeatable. They require you to gauges which character would be best during the situation, but if you spent time looking for the hidden abilities, some might prove to be a little easier. You will die a lot. Your skills are pushed during these sections, but only a little further than you already pushed them during normal enemy encounters.
Let me just take a second to tell you about the soundtrack and how awesome it is. Seriously, every area and every boss is supplemented with awesome tunes to keep your energy up. And you’re going to need it because things will get tough. However, there are added unlockables dependent on your actions that can be navigated through on the main menu. It provides a sense of replayability, given that the game itself isn’t tediously long. It’ll just take some time, depending on how many times you die.
Astalon: Tears of the Earth is an unexpected masterpiece of retro designs blended so delicately with modern roguelite elements. Death doesn’t punish the player as much as it sets them up with improved ways to approach situations. There’s a sense of discovery in every area, but this does limit direction causing some confusion when trying to figure out where to go. Further, bosses can be underwhelming compared to normal enemies, which creates an awkward balance of challenge. Regardless, this is the must-play game of the summer.
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