Dedicated couch co-op experiences are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Presently, there’s an expectation of games to have an engrossing single player mode or a robust online multiplayer, both of which have become largely solitary experiences. Since the start of the current generation, few titles outside of Wii Sports and Rock Band have been able to bring people together to enjoy a videogame in the same room. Towerfall, currently exclusive to the humble Android powered Ouya, is a hidden gem and is what party game enthusiasts have been waiting for. There is no 40-hour campaign or online leaderboards, just a core idea that harkens back to a simpler time where videogames were about having friends over to kill some time, joke, and most importantly, have fun.
Towerfall is a 2-4-player arena fighting game similar in approach to Super Smash Brothers and Power Stone. In accordance with its old school couch co-op play, Towerfall utilizes a pixilated graphical style with a catchy retro soundtrack. Players all compete on the same screen attempting to either shoot one another with an arrow or jump on their head in order to knock them out of contention. Every round ends with a rewind of the final kill that can be replayed in slow motion for dramatic effect.
“The rounds are quick, frantic, and chaotic”Careless play is punished in Towerfall, as arrows are limited and everything is a one shot kill. The rounds are quick, frantic, and chaotic. Arrows fly from all different directions, players race to pick up treasure chests and fallen arrows, while environmental hazards and power-ups forces everyone to mix up their strategy on the fly. Longer rounds of Towerfall can often lead to tense moments where trigger happy players are scavenging for any ammunition they can find, while those that exercise more patience become predators, hunting them from across the map. However, even empty-handed players can still try to out maneuver their adversaries by either stealing an arrow with a well timed dash or by dropping on top of them with a demoralizing head stomp. Intelligent players have the tools to pull out a win no matter how far a hole they have dug themselves into, and regardless of how well positioned someone appears to be, the game can always turn around in an instant.
Power-ups, such as shields and terrain destroying bomb arrows, appear mid-round and are effective in keeping each session fresh. Occasionally, environmental artifacts will appear and can be triggered to dramatically change the way Towerfall is normally played. Upon picking up the lava artifact, molten hot rock slowly creeps onto the corners of the map, forcing the cautious to come out of hiding and vaporizing anyone that is unfortunate enough to accidentally drop into it. The darkness artifact is activated and suddenly the lights are shut off. Torches provide the only illumination and the shadows can now be used as cover, allowing players to patiently wait for the perfect moment to drop onto an unsuspecting opponent. These power-ups and artifacts turn what would otherwise be a repetitive arrow shooting deathmatch dominated by veterans into a free-for-all where rookies can regularly catch lucky rounds off seasoned pros. Towerfall is to traditional fighting games as Mario Kart is to Gran Turismo, making sure everyone is having fun takes precedence over running a simulation where the best play wins every time.
Each stage has a distinct art style and highlights a particular theme such as a cloud world with plenty of flight power-ups or a hazy desert area where the background sways as if it were a mirage. After each round the arrangement of the stage is slightly altered, allowing for map variety even in extra long games. Unfortunately, the pixelated characters and arrows could definitely stand to ‘pop’ out of the background a little more. There are plenty of “wait what just happened” moments because of how easy it is to lose track of the characters amidst the chaos.
The level of control added by the game variants in the paid version are effective in adding variety and a way to mix up the rules. Handicaps can be implemented to help novices survive longer or the insanity can stepped up by starting everyone off with a quiver of super homing bomb and laser arrows. There are plenty of ways to fine-tune Towerfall through these variants and along with the added stages, is worth the upgrade price if you enjoyed the free version.
It is worth noting that there is a single player mode in Towerfall, however it is essentially a tutorial for the multiplayer. It involves navigating each stage attempting to destroy motionless dummies as quickly as possible, earning different medals by clearing time objectives. It is a good way to learn how each power-up works and how to effectively move around the map. Clearing the most difficult challenges requires near impeccable navigation skills and may be a worthwhile venture for experts trying to perfect their game. All that being said, Towerfall is meant to be played with at least one other person. The single player mode might be a decent distraction in between multiplayer sessions for those that really crave more, but if finding someone else to play with isn’t feasible, then Towerfall is not worth downloading.
While it is still exclusive, Towerfall is the Ouya’s killer app. There hasn’t been a title in recent years that matches Towerfall’s combination of accessibility and fun. It is simple enough for all audiences, deep enough for hardcore competitors, and entertaining to watch for people sitting out. While lack of an online multiplayer and a weak single player mode will limit Towerfall’s appeal to those that aren’t able to consistently rally two or three friends to come over and play; for what Towerfall is designed to be, a local party game, it performs its task nearly flawlessly.