Challenging old-school 2D adventures are a dime a dozen on the Nintendo Switch, with new releases having to bring something unique to the equation to catch my attention. At first glance, Astalon: Tears of the Earth didn’t seem to offer that, with its 8-bit visuals and platforming gameplay looking like something I had seen a million times before.
First impressions can be deceiving though, and there’s more to Astalon: Tears of the Earth than meets the eye. This is an adventure that’s cleverly designed, offers depth in its gameplay, and that introduces a satisfying character-switching mechanic, with the perilous quest of its three heroes proving to be a thoroughly entertaining one.
Check out a gallery of screenshots down below:
Astalon: Tears of the Earth tells the tale of three adventurers who have to scale the dangerous Tower of Serpents in order to save their home from the atrocities of a post-apocalyptic world. Fortunately, they’re ‘aided’ by the Titan of Death, who has granted them the ability to constantly revive when defeated. It’s always handy in a video game, right? There’s a catch though: it comes at the expense of one of their souls. Yeah, I’m sure things will work out alright in the end…
What follows is an old-school platforming adventure that sees players running, jumping, slicing, and blasting their way through all sorts of platforming challenges and enemies in their path. In many way, Astalon: Tears of the Earth feels like many titles that have come before it – it looks like them too, if the screenshots are anything to go by.
Fortunately, it also comes with a neat little hook that helps differentiate it from similar titles. All three heroes in Astalon: Tears of the Earth have to be used to get through its challenges, with players able to swap between the three when resting at the camp sites strewn across the Tower of Serpents. These camp sites also offer brief moments of solace and interaction between the three heroes – whilst these instances are never too deep, they give more insight into the characters and the relationship which they share with one another. It makes it easier to invest in their journey and root for them to succeed, whilst it also fleshes out the overarching narrative.
“All three heroes in Astalon: Tears of the Earth have to be used to get through its challenges, with players able to swap between the three when resting at the camp sites strewn across the Tower of Serpents.”
Whilst the three heroes are all competent at standard platforming, it is with their abilities that they stand out the most. Arias feels like the quickest of the three thanks to his dash ability, whilst he is also able to deflect projectiles. He’s also armed with a sword so is ideal for up-close combat, though it can also be used to cut through some obstacles so it’s certainly versatile.
Kyuli is nimble given that she can climb objects and perform multiple jumps in succession, making her the perfect candidate to get to those hard-to-reach areas. She also has a bow, so enemies that are out of reach can be picked off with ease when using her. Finally, there’s Algus, who is the magic user of the trio. He’s able to shoot fireballs that can penetrate objects and activate switches, whilst he’s also able to glide between areas to give him a bit more momentum when moving.
I loved the character switching mechanics, and not just because it reminded me of The Lost Vikings (which is a game I adored in my younger years). It added an extra element of puzzling to almost everything you do in the game, with even some typically simple areas to progress through demanding a bit of thought from the player. Each set of abilities does feel genuinely unique too, with nothing tacked on for the sake of it. It could be argued that these sort of abilities are all used by just one hero in similar titles in the genre, but there was something more rewarding about having to switch between three in Astalon: Tears of the Earth and seeing the camaraderie between the trio.
“I loved the character switching mechanics, and not just because it reminded me of The Lost Vikings (which is a game I adored in my younger years).”
Being able to switch between the three encourages exploration in the game, with some areas only accessible by specific characters or certain pathways having to be opened using a character’s abilities first. You won’t have access to all of each character’s abilities immediately either, so there’s a sense of progress to the game that doesn’t only make it feel like your characters are constantly improving, but also encourages players to re-visit locales that previously had areas that were blocked off. It’s like a Metroidvania-style game in many ways, though it isn’t quite so perplexing thanks to its more streamlined map design. That isn’t a complaint, by the way, but actually something I appreciated when playing.
Oh, and I know what you’re thinking: having to go to a campsite constantly to switch characters is going to be a pain. Well, I won’t lie, it can be. However, it doesn’t take too long before you unlock an item that lets you do it on the fly, which doesn’t only make the game more accessible but also makes exploration feel a lot more fun.
Astalon: Tears of the Earth can be a pretty challenging game, with plenty of different enemy types to face off against as well as tricky bosses that will certainly test your skills. Of course, each character can handle different enemies in more effective ways, so knowing who to switch between and when can be vital to your success. It’s really satisfying working out which of the three characters is best to use for any given situation though, and it helps make progression through the game all the more rewarding.
“Of course, each character can handle different enemies in more effective ways, so knowing who to switch between and when can be vital to your success.”
You will die often though, which sends you back to the start of the tower. Bummer, right? Fortunately, this isn’t really a rogue-lite experience, with plenty of fast-travel points to help you return to areas you’d previously traversed through. The improvements you’ve earned for your trio of heroes carry over too, with the semi-RPG like upgrades remaining intact. It’s not something I’ve touched upon in this review yet, but developing each hero’s capabilities is an important aspect of the game – it’s tied to death though, with a lot of these upgrades unlocked when dealing with the Titan of Death each time you fall. I’ve probably made it sound a bit more complicated than it actually is (and a lack of upgrade descriptions could be a little annoying), but it’s an intuitive system that actually helps make you more powerful each time an enemy manages to defeat you.
It all makes for an experience that’s a whole lot of fun. I had a good time beating up Astalon: Tears of the Earth’s enemies (even if they dished out as much hurt to me), whilst actually exploring the world and utilising each character’s abilities to get around was a joy. There’s so much to actually uncover in the game, with keen adventurers sure to have a good time simply finding what’s hidden across the world. Sure, there’ll be plenty of platforming challenges and enemies blocking your path, but overcoming them adds to the charm of the journey. Just expect a REALLY tough time at the back end of the game… Astalon: Tears of the Earth isn’t afraid to ramp up the difficulty at the end.
“The soundtrack is banging too, with the chiptune beats fitting the old-school vibe of the game perfectly.”
It’s all complimented by the game’s fantastic presentation, with the 8-bit art style looking really pretty throughout. Don’t get me wrong, nothing ever felt particularly unique, but the cool enemy designs and the varied world ensure that you’ll never grow tired of exploring each new area. Oh, and the soundtrack is banging too, with the chiptune beats fitting the old-school vibe of the game perfectly.
Astalon: Tears of the Earth is a REALLY good old-school adventure, with its character-switching mechanic certainly proving to be a highlight. The level design is complimented by the varied abilities at your disposal, and knowing which character to use to overcome each challenge adds to the fun. Add to that a neat upgrade system and a brilliant chiptune soundtrack that fits the vibe of the game perfectly, and it becomes clear that Astalon: Tears of the Earth offers a heck of a lot more than might initially meets the eye.
Developer: LABS Work
Publisher: Dangen Entertainment
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Click here to visit the official website.