Ageless, the recent puzzle-platformer from One More Dream Studios, has an emphasis on single-screen puzzles, much like notable indie game Celeste. Similarly, Ageless features changing gimmicks in each world, such as needing to collect 3 collectables to proceed in the second world, a changing list of animals, or using enemies to break through blocks. The main gameplay consists of “ageing” and “de-ageing” organisms. Every animal has 5 stages of life: egg, young, prime, old, and death. Each puzzle requires the player character to use her powers to get every organism to the proper age to proceed, whether that entails ageing a rhinoceros to old (stage 4) to break blocks beneath it or growing a plant to act as a platform. The story begins with our protagonist, Kiara, at a campfire in a mysterious location. Through a blend of her talking aloud and a few choice words attached to the environment, we learn about her character and receive a glance into her background. The drama begins to unfold around her and after a chance meeting with another character, Vi, the game truly begins.
After a few story beats, Kiara gains the ability to dash using the life energy of other organisms, which opens up the gameplay tremendously. Dashing gives her incredible distance and speed, but the trade-off is that she must de-age whatever she used to dash. Dashing also has an equal and opposite reaction for the organism involved in the dash, which allows the player to launch animals to locations where they may be needed for a puzzle.
The story of Ageless could easily be compared to its indie pixel platformer compatriots, as it focuses on a bitter, confused heroine and her quest to master her powers and her life. She begins the game as an aimless young adult with no clue where to proceed in her life, but as she tries to help those around her, she learns more about herself, her motivations, and her flaws. The dialogue outside of these sombre, introspective moments is witty and engaging, and on more than one occasion it made me laugh aloud. I’m impressed with how consistently funny the writers could be. There are a few typos sprinkled within, but that’s to be expected from any game, especially one created with an indie budget.
Its developers, One More Dream Studios, worked tirelessly for 2 years to produce this game, and the effort truly shows in its presentation. The pixel art of the characters is simplistic yet effective, showing exactly what’s required in terms of movement and expression to convey the emotion to the audience. The backgrounds, however, are masterfully drawn and are simply breathtaking. I can’t help but pause to take them in every time I enter a new area.
The music in this game is truly excellent and fits the mysterious atmosphere of this bizarre world perfectly. One of the boss tracks, titled “Upward Climb”, stands out like no other. It’s unlike any of the previous songs, yet still perfectly fits the scenario it plays in. In contrast to the rather wistful tones, Upward Climb has clear rock and roll inspiration. The composer has an excellent range and the soundtrack is one of Ageless’ best boons. Although the sound design is mostly spot-on, some of the audio mixings have issues. Some scenes contain odd, distracting, and out of place sound effects that make it difficult to pay full attention to the dialogue. These problems are few and far between, thankfully.
While I praise Ageless for its mass array of optional challenge rooms, there is a qualm that I have with the approach. If the player decides to go off the beaten path, they may have to redo a previously completed room to venture onward with the story. Despite this, the challenge rooms and collectables found within are a true trial, that while optional, make the experience feel more complete. Those that are adept at puzzle platformers will find that the ramping difficulty does a good job of keeping players of all skill levels entertained. Many rooms in Ageless have multiple ways to solve a problem, which opens up the door for experimentation and added replay value.
Boss encounters, while sparing, provide high-stakes encounters that require quick thinking and mastery of gameplay mechanics. However, these scenarios can prove to be a bit too punishing and have a tediously low number of checkpoints. Being sent back a few rooms after a simple slip-up can be exhausting and demotivates the player from continuing.
The penultimate world, in particular, contains some tricky sequences that can add hours to a player’s playtime. Though not impossible, the game certainly ramps up in difficulty rather quickly and somewhat dampers the pace. This is the only time during my playthrough that made me use a guide. However, the game quickly levels out and introduces some unique and captivating mechanics that more than make up for the random difficulty spike.
There is a demo available on Steam if a $14.99/£10.99 price tag is too steep to justify in the current economic climate as-of this review, which covers up to the first boss encounter. It gives a fairly good idea of what to expect from the rest of the game.
My playtime came to about 14 hours and 30 minutes, but I only diverged from the main path a handful of times. I’d say the price of admission is well worth the experience. The gameplay absolutely hooked me and there’s a plethora of content available for the most diehard completionist. The story, soundtrack, and style are nothing to sneeze at either, and coupled together result in one of the most engaging platformers of 2020. However, the difficulty spikes, low number of checkpoints, and backtracking required for collectables can all be severely demotivating.
- Gameplay is very refined with many ways to solve puzzles
- Excellent accompanying score
- Powerful, moving story
- Puzzles can become obtuse and halt story progression
- Sloppy audio mixing in certain cutscenes where SFX are oppressively loud
- Some optional collectables require backtracking