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Ageless’ Cheap Difficulty Bars It From Being A Stellar Platformer
Platform: PC, Nintendo Switch
Genre: Ageing-slash-de-ageing 2D pixel platforming
The premise of Malaysian-developed indie platformer Ageless sounds promising: you play an aimless girl named Kiara who gets a cool ageing and de-ageing power that uses bow and arrows so that she can change the world she lives in. She also has the ability to stop time and use living organisms as a “boost”, making for a lovely set of platforming and level design ideas that require your puzzle-solving bit in your brain to get through.
Ageless’ levels and areas range from a star-filled twilight night sky for a first level to even the insides of a golem. This indie title is at its best when it brings you into its tale of newfound purpose and when you’re having fun exploring and experimenting with your time acceleration powers. Using your age-accelerating arrows to turn an infant rhino into an aggressive head-charging adult rhino to break barriers and using them as pitfall springboards ala Super Mario World’s Yoshi feels awesome.
In the long run, however, the developers need to sort out the balance between fun and difficulty. Ageless steers towards the latter too much; it requires you to be precise and unflinching from the get-go. I’m all for challenging platforming games, but shouldn’t the tough bits slowly reveal themselves during the halfway mark instead of the first boss? The game’s aesthetics and tone do not seem to reflect this.
Ageless’ difficulty spikes are all over the place. The regular stage platforming bits are adequate until you reach the boss levels where you have to run and evade oncoming threats that aren’t affected by your time stop power. The best platforming games that feature these kinds of running levels at least introduce easy level mechanics to grasp at the start of the stage before throwing the difficult mixup jumping bits and mechanics in the third bit. And also a couple of well-placed checkpoints to lessen the oncoming aggravation.
Ageless does not give you this luxury and isn’t lenient with its pixel-precise platforming and on-the-spot jump timings. This leads to multiple deaths that do not feel fair at all. Compare this with Ori and the Will of the Wisps, another incredibly challenging game from a small team, but playing that feels more rewarding in comparison because of its leniency with its hitboxes/hurtboxes, its tight controls, and multiple combat and traversal options.
It wouldn’t be that much of an ordeal if the controls are spot-on. Ageless’ jumping and moving feel a tad loose, and the right analog bow-and-arrow aiming is equally as slippy. While the mouse aiming is fine, the keyboard movement and controls are rigid in their own right. It seems that Ageless’ default controls can’t seem to nail the “sweet spot” for good controls and are on the scale of “passable”. This is a huge detriment for platformers that require quick reflexes and precise jumping, at least for the boss and timed segments.
Still, you can slow time down to a crawl when you’re aiming. But sometimes the “flicks” on the analog stick pop up, meaning that you will probably miss your aim half the time. There are a number of segments that require you to be accurate with your shots so that you fall in-sync with where you’re landing or traversing. You end up dying more times needlessly because of this underlying problem.
All Ageless needs to elevate it to hang alongside 2D platforming indie greats like Explosion Man, Super Meat Boy, the Rayman reboots, and the Ori series are three important things: generous checkpoints, refined controls, and leeway towards precise platforming and hitbox detection. If you screw these up, your game is just aggravating to play over and over again especially in a day and age where better games balance the difficulty curve between fairness and frustration really well.
The last thing you want is your already-niche player base giving up at the end of the first stage and playing something else that treats them respectfully from a skill-based perspective.
I have no doubt that this title will be a cult classic for some folks who like masochistic 2D platformers-slash-trolling devices like I Wanna Be The Guy. And I do hope the devs keep making 2D platformers and refine their future works based on lessons from Ageless. While it’s a nice debut, the team still have ways to go to create the perfect challenge-laden jumping experience.
This indie title can’t decide if it wants to be a tough-yet-relaxing puzzle game or a momentum-based platformer, and it suffers from such an identity crisis. “A” for effort.
*disclaimer: despite what these videos are showing, it took us half-and-hour and more to truly complete these segments in real-time.Â