A challenging platformer with an interesting hook and some frustrating mechanics.
From publisher Team17 comes Ageless, a platformer where you can use a bow and arrow to age flora and fauna up or down in order to gain access to new areas and higher places. The primary mechanic is an interesting one, and it’s coupled with the ability to perform a dash while in contact with another lifeform. A variety of rooms and obstacles add much to the experience, but some frustrating obstacles and difficulty in aiming and using the bow hold this game back from being one for the ages.
There is a fair bit of story wrapped around Ageless, and this adds a nice reward for reaching the end of each of the five worlds. Protagonist Kiara is on a journey of self-discovery when she comes across an obelisk that grants her a special power, which fills her with purpose but still leaves her with another question: what should she do with this newfound ability?
In the first area of the game, Pandora, Kiara meets a boy named Vi who is given the power to summon portals that allow him to teleport. After proceeding through a few tutorial-like rooms, the difficulty begins to ramp up at a quick pace. Some of the initial puzzles involve using your arrows to age up/down a small rhino who has different attributes and takes different actions depending on what stage of life it’s in. The baby rhino can be coaxed forward by plants in its line of vision and then used as a platform; the adult rhino will charge forward if it sees you and can destroy stone barriers in its path; the elderly rhino is heaviest and blocks will crumble beneath its weight. In the second world, new plants and animals can undergo these types of changes, providing you with new ways to traverse increasingly-challenging screens.
While you can see how many possible stages each creature and flower can undergo in a meter just above them, the most frustrating aspect isn’t figuring out what you need to do in each room, even though that can be quite the task. The simple act of aiming the bow and hitting your target is immensely arduous. By pressing down and holding ZR or ZL, you will draw an arrow that ages or de-ages, respectively. While aiming, you use the left stick to determine the arrow’s path. However, the sensitivity is incredibly high and can’t be adjusted. Add to that the fact that you’ll often move forward as a result of leaning the stick forward while aiming, and more often that not you’ll go careening into a pit or other hazard after letting loose your arrow. The inability to remap buttons or adjust the controls and sensitivity in some way is a major issue that holds back the game’s strong premise.
Each area has a charming pixel art aesthetic and uses a unique color palette to distinguish it from the rest. Obstacles and objects to interact with are highly visible, but it’s not always clear what a flower, for example, does as it grows old or returns to an earlier stage of life. The music is pleasant but forgettable. Hidden collectables in each world add an even greater challenge as they require traversal of even trickier rooms and have to be returned to a checkpoint before they can be successfully obtained. Ageless isn’t timeless, but it is fun for a while. The experience would be a much smoother and more memorable one if its primary mechanic was easier to execute. Each world culminates in a boss fight, and these border on maddening when coupled with scarce checkpoints, the aforementioned aiming issues, and a system of progression that’s essential trial-and-error. Those who like their platformers extra spicy may find a satisfying 10 hours here, but be warned that fighting with the controls is par for this course.