There’s something mesmerizing about the swooping flow of an impeccably designed platformer.
Whether it’s the so-called “blast processing” that powered the original Sonic the Hedgehog or the chuckling backflips of Mario 64, watching someone nimbly navigate countless jumps, twists, and hazards in the blink of an eye never fails to impress. That’s the exhilarating experience that the team behind of Solar Ash, the upcoming platformer from the creators of 2016’s Hyper Light Drifter, are aiming to create.
Creator Alx Preston says that’s why the developers are looking to the titans of the genre — even if they’re a bit long in the tooth.
“Mario 64 is always a great inspiration as far as character control goes. It has some of the best, most expressive control in any game. It's 20-something years old now and it still plays better than most games, and it’s still the most popular speedrunning game by a long shot,” he explains. “A lot of that longevity and the joy that comes from that game is the depth and expressive beauty of the character control.”
At a media preview event ahead of the game’s release, Inverse got a fresh look at Solar Ash, during which Preston shared more details about the game’s world and its atmospheric approach to storytelling.
Solar Ash tosses you into the swift shoes of of Rei, a Voidrunner exploring a black hole. It’s a trippy, neon-spattered landscape — imagine a 3D, monster’s grotto version of Earthbound’s alt-reality Moonside. Traversal is the focus here, and as Rei you’ll weave nimbly along tendrils of light, fling yourself down cavernous wells, and launch yourself sword-first at bulbous-butted space spiders.
While there’s plenty to see in the lonely world of Solar Ash, this isn't a “stop and smell the roses” kind of experience. Sure, the void is dotted with little caves and chambers, where you’ll learn more about the Rei and her bleak surroundings. But you won’t linger anywhere for too long, and numerous areas will require you to complete timed puzzle elements in order to progress forward.
While Rei encounters other characters and Solar Ash features extensive voice acting, you’ll play for long stretches without encountering anyone else at all. It’s a lonely world, full of “broken and busted places.” Still, as Preston points out, the game is about finding the potential for transformation “even in the face of great destruction, even in the face of great sorrow and loss.”
In its atmospheric and traversal-first approach to storytelling, Solar Ash again looks to a classic Nintendo series that inspired a subgenre all its own.
“Super Metroid was a really formative thing for me as a kid. It was the first time in a game that I had really understood that atmosphere and tone can establish really powerful feelings,” Preston explains. “That was the type of stuff that I wanted to keep building off — these places that had a vibe and an atmosphere that felt like there were a lot of memories and experiences that once occurred there.”
For Preston, keeping things lively is as much a matter of deliberate pacing and level design as it is a matter of crafting silky controls. Solar Ash is not a game that allows you to sit still.
“If the player doesn't feel that pressure, if they don't have those motivating factors, then the flow will only feel good for a moment. Then the novelty starts to wear off, and then it becomes less important and less engaging,” he explains.
Solar Ash comes to PS4, PS5, and PC via the Epic Games Store October 26.