Solar Ash Review

Into the void.
Solar Ash Review Header

An action platformer set on a crumbling world inside a black hole, Solar Ash is an epic and stylish adventure. Players take on the role of Rei, a voidrunner intending to save the planet by activating a giant machine called the Starseed. Unfortunately, there’s some troublesome anomalies in the way that you’ll have to take care of first. The good news is that this means skating around, stabbing some eyes, and then skating along the back of a gigantic monster made of black goo and bone.

Skating is the operative word here, as movement is the focus of the game. Even when you’re fighting off enemies, if you’re not skating around you’re getting hit, so you’ll basically always be skating. It’s a relief then that it feels incredibly fluid and responsive. You’ll quickly find yourself feeling like a skating genius as you bounce between platforms, grind rails, dodge attacks and slice at enemies all at once (that’s what skaters do, right?). The combat here is pretty simplistic, designed to complement the traversal system so you can do both at the same time. It might be straightforward, but skating and jumping past enemies while also efficiently dispatching them without taking any damage while also jumping between platforms is still satisfying to say the least.

When it comes to stabbing eyes – uh, I mean, dealing with the anomalies so you can use the Starseed – you’ll first need to take care of five smaller anomalies before you can take on a gigantic monster anomaly. The smaller ones are black goo that has formed  around the world, each bit of which has an eye in it for you to attack. These are basically traversal challenges, where you’ll hit or grapple to weakpoints against a timer before stabbing the eye right in its awful eyeball. I was wary of having to race against the clock, but the timers are forgiving enough for you to make a couple of small mistakes, and the challenges are rather inventive, even if they do eventually start to feel repetitive.

Solar Ash Skating

While this is happening, each gigantic monster is content to ominously wait in the background for you to be done so they can emerge. These bosses are by far and away the most thrilling parts of the game, which is a testament to how excellent they are. Skating along their backs and hitting or grappling to weakpoints as they fly around the world is intense. These are longer, far more tense versions of the smaller anomalies, but now you’re skating along the bones on the outside of a gargantuan creature as you hit its weakpoints.

Just like the smaller anomalies, defeating these creatures is forgiving enough to avoid being overwhelmingly difficult, but challenging enough to feel like you’re always just scraping by. You always feel like an absolute badass when you finish one. They’re meticulously designed and just phenomenal experiences.

Solar Ash Monsters

They also look incredible, the twisted monsters contrasting with the gorgeous world that they preside over. Solar Ash is full of bright neon colour and astonishing, impossible vistas in an almost cel-shaded art style. There’s six areas to play through, each one made of crumbling sections of land and buildings as they break apart inside the black hole. All the devastated chunks of world are connected by clouds that you skate over to get around, but that doesn’t give justice to the world design.

The clouds are not flat, they fold back on themselves and twist around, the camera gracefully following the twists and turns to keep you centred and the surface you’re on beneath you. There’s many areas where you can look up from where you’re stood and see the area you had just passed through, upside down, like you’re in an MC Escher painting. It is a little mind-bending and a constant delight throughout the game as it continues to find new ways to leave you with stunned disbelief at the world’s architecture.

Solar Ash Worlds

More than that, each of the six areas is visually distinct, with later ones introducing new enemies and gameplay mechanics to help keep things fresh, such as toxic water or lava. The world is fleshed out by finding people hidden away in these worlds and chatting to them to pick up side missions. These are well written and voice acted, and they help to expand on the background of not only the mission to activate the Starseed, but of the different areas of the devastated planet you’re exploring as well. All this and the occasional cutscene with a giant figure that keeps crushing you in its hand creates a mysterious, surreal tone that fits really well with the impossible world design.

Solar Ash is one of the best games of the year. It looks gorgeous, its story is pretty unique and surprising, and its set-piece moments get really intense, as you might expect from skating along the back of a black goo and bone dragon. It's a nice surprise to end the year with that any "skating combined with combat and gigantic monsters" enthusiasts, which is definitely already a thing.
  • Absolutely beautiful
  • Mind-bending world design
  • Meticulously designed bosses
  • Fast, fluid traversal
  • Well written, interesting story
  • Small anomalies can be a little repetitive