Solar Ash game review: Hyper Light’s Sister

Mick Fraser
by Mick Fraser
Mick has been writing about games for years, and has no intention of stopping anytime soon. You'll always find him willing to talk about games and gaming, and he will forever defend Destiny 2. Read more
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  • Explore a gorgeous alien landscape with speed and grace as Rei
  • Tackle huge anomalies and ancient puzzles to save your planet
  • Slow time, skate on air, and face death over and over again
Solar Ash

If you played Heart Machine’s Hyper Light Drifter, you’ll already know that this is a developer with that almost ethereal combination of ambition and raw talent. It’s a superlative 16-bit action-adventure that mixes incredible challenge with compelling combat to create something truly memorable.

Solar Ash takes several leaves from the same book, but aside from the glorious color palette, makes sweeping changes to the design that provide thrills when they nail the landing. It may not always be as exciting or as challenging as their previous game, but Solar Ash is a solid adventure in its own right.

At face value, it takes obvious cues from last year’s The Pathless. Not only in the aesthetic, but in the sense of speed and freedom. The way the main character skates gracefully across the landscape, hoovering up resources, is incredibly reminiscent of Giant Squid’s adventure – which was coincidentally also published by Annapurna Interactive.

Cloud-surfing

The big difference here is that Solar Ash eschews The Pathless’s avian companion and bow-based combat for something that feels more immediate and physical. The main character Rei can fight, although she can’t weather many good hits, and you will die an awful lot. You won’t lose currency or progress on death, but enemies will respawn and you’ll be sent back to the last checkpoint you crossed.

Rei is quick, though. She can run, skate, glide and boost herself across the land, double-jumping to reach higher ledges and using her unique gear to grapple onto distant purchase points, or propel herself towards enemies. Combat is slick and fast, but you’ll need to have lightning reflexes at times as enemies hit very hard (especially in the early game).

Your mission in each of the biomes is to clear our the resident Anomalies, which removes their corruption and allows you to progress. As with The Pathless, these Anomalies take the form of gargantuan bestial constructs that must often be tackled directly. Rei can use her grapple to climb onto them, and then use a mix of speed and time manipulation to take them down.

Until the sun dies

The story is compelling enough to keep you moving, as Rei battles to save her dying world and contends with ancient celestial beings who have their own agendas. There’s a great sense of scale and gravitas to it all, although it can feel like it’s taking itself way too seriously at times. Solar Ash is at its best when the story falls away and you’re off exploring, gliding across clouds and zipping up towering structures in pursuit of new routes, power-ups, and secrets.

Such a vast world takes time to explore, but it’s worth it. Combat is never quite hard enough to put you off tackling the next enemy, and spending a little time off the beaten path to seek out abandoned caches can reward you with shield upgrades, new suits, and currency to spend on permanent buffs when you visit CYD, your guide through this strange landscape.

It can be difficult to know exactly where to go or what to do though. While you’ll unlock Dark Souls-style shortcuts that make returning to where you died each time a little easier, the objective marker isn’t always very helpful. Sometimes you’ll need to solve an environmental puzzle to move on, or make your way up something that you may be assumed wasn’t climbable.

Beauty in destruction

There’s a darkness to the world that comes from the near-apocalyptic setting, a grim atmosphere juxtaposed with the bright, relentlessly stunning visuals. It’s a landscape built from swathes of black shot through with explosions of light and color, with a churning sea of cloud beneath you and ancient ruins that stretch into the distant sky.

But there are issues here, too. For example, missing a jump because of the camera or taking a hit from an enemy because you weren’t split-second fast enough is frustrating enough. But often the punishment for these failures is falling to the bottom of a long, long climb, or being sent back a considerable distance to the last checkpoint. Also, much of the gameplay loop remains unchanged from the first hour to the last, with few big additions to your arsenal or the mechanics.

It’s never boring, exactly, but there were definitely moments in Solar Ash’s run time that needed to move faster. A more concise sense of direction may have helped, as Solar Ash’s world is so open, its palette so prevalent, that the way forward isn’t always intuitively clear.

Achievements & Completion

Solar Ash will take most around 15 hours to complete. The story is a decent size, but there’s definitely a reason to spend time exploring. Collectibles and upgrades are sparse but certainly worth finding.

As with most games released on both PC and console, Solar Ash features trophies and achievements to unlock as you play. Most are related to story and exploration, and you shouldn’t need more than one playthrough to find them all.

That being said, there’s little reason to play through the story again once you’re done unless you really, really enjoyed the world. There’s no multiplayer element and no additional modes besides the campaign.

Final Thoughts on Solar Ash

Pros
Looks gorgeous
Movement is smooth and satisfying
Decent story
Cons
A little too serious at times
Not always clear where to go next
Failure can be frustrating

Final Score: 3.5/5

For its sheer sense of grace and scale, Solar Ash is mostly a triumph. It lacks the strong combat of Hyper Light Drifter, but the movement and exploration make up for it. With so many different gameplay elements, Solar Ash can sometimes feel a little disjointed though. And while the story is compelling enough to see you through to the end, it does tend to take itself a little too seriously at times.

It’s stunning to look at, though. Rei is an interesting protagonist, while the supporting cast creates intrigue that adds to the central mystery. It’s not always the most thrilling experience, but its fluid movement and solid premise make it an easy one to recommend.

Solar Ash is available on PS4, PS5, and PC for around $29.99.

*Disclaimer: This is a review of the PC version of Solar Ash. Review access was provided by the publisher.

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