Now… I’m a fan of walking simulators, moreso than the average human being.
I give Dear Esther some of the credit it deserves. My favorite game of all time can begrudgingly be called a walking simulator. However, there’s a flip-side to that notion, with walking simulators recently being nothing but tone-deaf dreck. Where The Bees Make Honey, Tyd wag Vir Niemand, Storm Boy, and now ASCENDANCE: First Horizon are the walking simulators to end all walking simulators.
This is the latest title from German developers ONEVISION Games. They’ve made a name for themselves by doing what similar German developer Piranha Bytes does: releasing the same game. While Piranha Bytes relish in re-releasing Gothic II under different skins, ONEVISION have done the same with a “Surreal First-Person Exploration” formula, with titles like ESSENCE, ASCENDANCE, and the soon-to-be-released DYSTOA. You don’t know whether you’re buying a video game or perfume.
There’s no plot, and that’s to be expected. You play as a vague human shape, stuck in small, undeveloped ruins surrounded by fluorescent landscapes that pierce the eyes with light. You walk up to floating orbs, and what do they offer? More of the level to explore! Hold on, Sonny Jim, the rollercoaster ain’t over yet! As you get higher and higher while touching more and more floating orbs, the platforms will become tougher to reach, which… honestly surprised me.
For once, a walking simulator is taking into accounts that the path forward isn’t always going to be laid out. It’s much more validated than something like Shape of The World, where the progression is halted by a lack of clairvoyance in level design and shit aesthetic presentations. ASCENDANCE suffers from that as well, but it has more in common with the game Refunct: The 2015 10-minute platformer from Dominique Grieshofer.
The similarities are there. Levels slowly expand upon collection of random collectibles dotted about the map. There’s an emphasis on rising up in the world to reach transcendental perfection, and similar endless horizons punctuated by a sense of feeling and becoming ethereal. It doesn’t make sense, and it’s not supposed to, but Refunct definitely knew to stay in its lane.
Say what you will about a ten-minute game with only one level and a price tag of $3, at least it never lied to you about what it was. It knew it was a small adventure that never hesitated to welcome you. It was a small experiment that was designed well enough to warrant what some might consider to be a hefty price tag. ASCENDANCE doesn’t really deserve the same clout, despite more content, because its main goal is to patronize you.
ASCENDANCE is the equivalent of a scam guru who asks that you pay a small fee for his advice and insight, because to not pay would mean that you wouldn’t understand it. The few nuggets of “wisdom” that ONEVISION attempt to force down your throats are so poorly-written and pretentious, it feels like a 16-year old Amazing Atheist fan rewrote The Holy Mountain.
Take the shapes, for example. Aside from orbs that expand the platforming playground you’ll partake in, you also …