A certain famous uncle once said, “With great power comes great responsibility”. Many may think having a special ability would make their life much easier to cope with, but the truth would most likely be far different. The new switch platformer Ageless takes a look at someone searching for a way to solve their personal issues, but the capabilities they’re given prove to lead to more issues than they’d anticipated.
Kiara’s spent several years searching for the Gate of Gifts, a mysterious structure that grants a person the gift they need most. For Kiara, her hope is that it will give her an ability that gives her life meaning. After years of searching, she’s able to find the gate and receives the strange power of affecting the age of objects. Unsure how this will help her, she journeys onward. It isn’t long before her power, and the power of another visitor to the Gate of Gifts, takes center stage in a desperate race against time that puts the entire world in peril.
The plot elements in Ageless will seem familiar to many. Moral dilemmas, corruption due to power, and other story tropes can be found all throughout the game’s storyline. At the same time, the setting of the game sets it apart from other stories that feature these subjects, even if the overall story arc is mostly predictable. A higher degree of story depth would have been welcomed and would have helped make the story events even more emotionally impactful, but the plot is still strong enough throughout the game to give you motivation to power through the tricky puzzle.
Ageless falls squarely in the “difficult platforming” genre of games that has seen a rise in popularity in the last few years. An immediate comparison that may come to mind is Celeste, which also featured pixel graphics and lots of precise platforming. There is a large amount of wall-jumping and air dashing to be done here, as well as expert use of the special abilities Kiara wields. Like the other demanding platformers that came before it, a healthy dose of experimentation is needed to figure out how to maneuver through each stage.
What it also has in common with these games is its sheer difficulty. You will almost assuredly die many times in each area trying to find a way forward. This will aggravate you and may even end with cursing and mood swings. For those who’ve played platformers like this in the past, you will know these feelings all too well. The good news is that perseverance will get you through the game’s trials in due time.
Unfortunately, Ageless is plagued by jarring camera shifts and background art that don’t synchronize properly with your movement, often causing quick-shifting near the end of each area. These camera issues extend to new regions you enter; the camera starts to zoom away and then blinks back into its correct position. This is regrettably a common occurrence, which brings you out of the experience all too often.
The gift Kiara received as the ability to change the age of living things via a bow and arrow made of energy she carries in her arm. There are five stages of age: birth, youth, prime, elderly, and death. Manipulating the life stages of plants and animals is key to getting past the game’s obstacles. Every creature’s life stage gives you different advantages to get through the map. For example, a spider enemy shoots webs that allow hovering in one life stage and reflects your arrows back at you in another. In addition, Kiara is able to enter the ageless state, which gives her the ability to absorb the life energy from any living thing and propel herself forward in any direction. This is another vital skill you use in the game.
The process of aiming the bow can be frustrating. The analog stick does not allow for precise aiming, but many of the stages in Ageless require extremely accurate and quick use of the bow. What results is twitchy aiming as you’re trying to shoot an arrow through a narrow space with a tiny window of error. Due to this, the already difficult puzzles become even more infuriating. The touch screen makes it much easier to aim your arrows, requiring only a touch on what you are aiming for. Unfortunately, this only works for shooting aging arrows, and many areas need you to use de-aging arrows as well. Presumably, this process was much easier in the original PC version, but the Switch port was unable to translate an intuitive way to aim the bow with joy-cons.
Various obstacles and elements are present in the stages you play through in Ageless, requiring deft use of platforming maneuvers and Kiara’s bow and arrow. Spikes, pits, projectiles, and other familiar hazards all make an appearance throughout the game. Checkpoints at the start of every room act as your respawning point every time you inevitably die. Each region you venture through features its own unique set of creatures and environmental elements, serving to give the game a decent amount of puzzle variety as you get further in the story. In the later stages of the game, many of these elements are present in the same stages, requiring even more strategy and precision in your movements.
The difficulty in puzzles varies wildly. One screen may have a simple solution, while the screen that follows will have you pulling your hair out trying to traverse through its obstacles. The level of convolution in the late-game areas is also quite high. There is often very little room for error in timing and aiming, which is a chore with the analog stick. In addition, some of the game’s hardest puzzles are timed, so you have to contend with a timer that is almost always extremely too short. Breaks may be needed to maintain your composure.
The overworld map screen is the game’s central hub, where you can see all of the regions you will explore in Ageless. The game is divided into several distinct regions that you will pass through on your journey. Every region’s areas are marked with circles on the map, a flag denoting areas you’ve cleared. You are free to go back and attempt areas at your leisure. Additionally, you are able to see clear times, the number of deaths, and the amount of relic collectibles that are present in that region. The problem is that only the overall amount of relics for the entire region are noted, instead of how many are present in each of the region’s areas. This makes going back and finding any collectibles you missed difficult, requiring a full run of the region to check every screen.
Relics are hidden collectibles found throughout the game’s many stages. They are only visible while Kiara is in the ageless state, and require you to reach a checkpoint before they are saved. Relics are almost entirely located in their own puzzle screens off the beaten path, so it takes a trained eye to spot the entrances to these areas. As you collect relics, 3D pixel dioramas featuring several of each region’s structures and creatures will be colored in. These can be viewed in the Relic Island section of the overworld map. Other than being able to fully admire these dioramas, collecting relics is otherwise solely a means to derive even more difficulty from Ageless.
At the end of every region in Ageless, you will encounter a boss. Unlike most games, these boss battles mostly entail tense platforming segments that require to race through the stage, one step ahead of the advancing boss. These are all nerve-wracking, but entirely manageable with enough repetition and memorization of the stage layout. One thing you might not like is that there are almost no checkpoints during these encounters. If you die, you will have to start back at the start of the sequence, which will take some patience to deal with. The length of these boss chases is rather lengthy, so if you aren’t well-versed in your powers, you will be by the time you finish these engagements.
Everything in Ageless is made up of pixels and a vibrancy of color. Kiara, the characters you meet, and the creatures you encounter all have a minimalist design that still manages to convey ample character. The 3D dioramas in the Relic Island section are also great pieces of art. The backgrounds you see in every screen likewise have a moderate amount of detail, but even this level is sufficient due to the diversity of each region’s aesthetics. As mentioned, sometimes these backgrounds do not track correctly as you move through each stage, so the visual quality of seeing the background move against a static foreground is diminished somewhat. This is unfortunate, because the pixel art style in the game pretty to look at.
MUSIC & VOICE ACTING
The music in Ageless fits each region well enough. Scary music plays in spooky areas, forest maps have a more whimsical sound to them. The tracks themselves have been composed nicely. A good mix of instrumentation and sounds are used in all the game’s music tracks. What’s odd is that the original version of the game featured voice effects during conversations, but the Switch port seems to omit these sounds entirely for unknown reasons. The game’s credits even show the game had multiple voice actors involved, but none of their work is featured in the Switch version. It’s unclear as to why this choice was made. It would have surely added more emotion to many of the game’s story scenes, and character to the game’s cast.
You may desire to go back to regions you’ve beaten to collect relics you’ve missed or skipped. If the game proves to be especially difficult for you, this feat may not be something you are up for. After all, collecting relics is really only for fun and coloring the dioramas. You can also replay stages to achieve lower clear times, if you are the competitive type. This too only serves to give you bragging rights and little else. All the same, the option is there for those looking to challenge themselves.
Ageless stands on its own in the ever-growing difficult platformer genre due to its great variety in novel platforming elements and its unique plot aspects, even if some puzzles require a level of precision that is a bit too unforgiving at times. Its graphical style uses color in a beautiful way, bringing the world to life. It’s a shame that the central bow and arrow mechanics of the game didn’t translate efficiently to the Switch’s analog stick. As a result, the game is entirely more frustrating than it needs to be. Even so, Ageless remains a fun and thought-provoking experience for any fan of challenging platformers.
Final Rating: 7.5/10.