“Solar Ash”: a brilliant break, but not without sacrifices

With the action game Solar Ash, the independent studio Heart Machine, to whom we owe the sumptuous Hyper Light Drifter, goes from 2D to 3D. And from small to medium to a large budget. A happy transition, but not without sacrifices.

In a surreal world, Rei is determined to stop the advance of the “Ultravoid”, a kind of black hole that threatens her planet … and of which she is a prisoner. To do this, she must reactivate the “Starseed”, a strange machine capable of reversing the gravitational power of the black hole. But giant monsters stand between her and this machine.

From the first moments, this second project from the Los Angeles studio breaks with the conventions that Heart Machine had set up. The characters now speak in person. Sacrilege?

Hyper Light Drifter was a two-dimensional game, with an overhead perspective, largely inspired by the 16-bit games of the Zelda franchise. His combat system was very responsive; his visuals, lit with neon, struck by the guts; and its narrative, obscure and, above all, silent, was tinged with mystery.

Solar Ash retains much, at first glance, of its predecessor. Like his exploded visual style, now translated into third person perspective. And its soundtrack led by futuristic-sounding synthesizers, still signed by Rich Vreeland.

Hand-to-hand combat, however, is no longer so engaging. The enemies are indeed predictable and easy to eliminate. We have come to wonder if, in going from 9 to 32 developers, Heart Machine had lost a bit of its soul.

What was really about Hyper Light Drifter ? On the move. And on this point, Solar Ash shines. Rei skates, jumps and slides at dizzying speeds in landscapes that defy reality, making exploration of the open world, which will take us 5 to 10 hours to achieve, an experience that is both zen and intoxicating.

This feeling reaches its climax when after completing the puzzles in an area, you must defeat the monster guarding it. Like a Shadow of the Colossus, we climb on these giants as tall as skyscrapers and we strike, in order, their many weak points. Solar Ash then becomes almost a rhythm game.

An exhilarating rhythm game, but also melancholy. This is because the latest Heart Machine has indeed more in common with the masterpiece of Team Ico than it seems.

To note, Solar Ash is easier to approach than its predecessor, which is due in large part to the emphasis on exploration rather than combat. We are also offered several difficulty settings, and navigation points indicate our next objectives, without giving us the solutions.

Solar Ash is a major breakthrough for Heart Machine which all in all results in a high quality experience. Shadow ofHyper Light Drifter on the other hand, was far too imposing to escape. We remain curious for the rest.

Solar Ash

★★★ 1/2

Designed by Heart Machine and published by Annapurna Interactive. Available for Windows PC (Epic Games Store) and Sony PlayStation 4 and 5.

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