Title: Ultra Age
Developer: Visual Dart, Next Stage
Release Date: September 9th
Reviewed On: PS4
Publisher: Visual Dart, Next Stage
Genre: Action Adventure
Ultra Age is a new indie action-adventure game by Visual Dart & Next Stage Studios that makes high-speed action the forefront of its experience, requiring a good bit of skill to overcome its short runtime. In many ways, this game succeeds at what it’s trying to be, but it isn’t as smooth sailing as some would hope.
The standout action-adventure games rely on their combat and story elements to immerse players. It can be difficult to keep the player engaged if one or both is lacking, but in rare cases, if the combat is great or better, it can acquire a cult fan base of sorts. This is what Ultra Age feels like it is destined to be while playing. Developed on the Unreal Engine, the game looks stunning, even staying in the range of 50 to 60 FPS. The combat is fluid, making you feel every hit the playable character Age lands, and the same goes for when you are hit by the mobs or bosses.
Ultra Age is heavily focused on timing, similar to Nier Automata, where timing dodges with counter-attacks to stagger the enemy is key to surviving every battle, from the small mob fights to the big over-the-top boss encounters. This is without a doubt Ultra Age’s strong point; there was never a moment where the combat felt dull, mainly because of the intricate and diverse mob designs you encounter on each board. From Crystallized Beasts to Boxing Robots, there may not be dozens of different mobs but what’s here has unique attack patterns that force the player to reject the notion of button mashing.
Timing your dodges and attacks is the core to Ultra Age’s combat but where it truly shines is the weapon system. With multiple different blades to switch between in the midst of combat and being able to equip 4 weapons at once, it creates an array of combos and staggering possibilities for the player to capitalize on.
However, weapons do break but not in the Breath of the Wild sense. Weapon durability is a mechanic that doesn’t feel like a burden; it is actually more a double-edged sword, no pun intended. The weapons you have are created by absorbing energy from crystals which can be found easily throughout the game’s levels. Even the enemies you face are introduced in a way whereupon defeat, seeing them dropping these crystals of energy makes sense due to the lore of the world. I never felt like I was missing out on the chance to be fully equipped.
On top of this, there are special attacks and abilities centered around each weapon, and with the exception of one, they don’t feel redundant or repetitive. However, still, I found this weapon to serve a major purpose even when facing the final boss. Each weapon works better against either a biological enemy or a mechanical one, making the need to keep both types in your loadout at all times, especially when you get a mix of mobs in one fight. The combat was so impressive that I found myself exploring every crook and cranny to find more enemies to fight to hone my combo skills and explore the numerous ways to quickly switch weapons for seamless combo variants.
Ultra-Age’s shine begins to dull in its story; while it isn’t uninteresting, the execution falls flat for several reasons. The main issue is the lack of information when beginning the game. You are thrown onto an Apocalyptic Earth, but that isn’t made directly clear until much later. The two main characters you follow, Age and his robot partner Helvis, have an established relationship completely unknown to the player. In addition, it makes it difficult to fully appreciate their dialogue because the missing context leaves you assuming that you will get their backstory, but you don’t. Instead, you get witty back and forth between them that comes off very two-dimensional, especially with the lack of passion in Age’s voice actor, who is, unfortunately, the worst of the cast.
As previously mentioned, the lore allows the gameplay scenarios to make sense; however, that is all I can give credit to. The rest of the game’s lore is a mess. Introducing characters with no sense of development so the player can get a sense for who these people are, even Age falls victim to this, making him hard to like or dislike because there isn’t much to his character other than his desire to continue forward with the mission given to him. That is not to say the direction the writers wanted to go with was unfathomable. Still, I had a hard time discerning if it was more of me projecting my own desires for the story’s purpose into the writing or understanding the underlying tones that should have been at the forefront of the experience.
Ultra Age is a no-brainer for indie action game fans. The adventure features seamless gameplay, fun boss designs, a low price, and the potential to create a franchise. It challenges the player to pay attention to enemy movements, create new playstyles and understand the game mechanics to the fullest while keeping it fun and creative. While the story has its shortcomings, I am sure with some added detail in the future; it can become a hit of its own.
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