Ageless (Switch) Review
The central theme of Ageless is a failure to execute on promising concepts. That sounds harsh, but it’s the most accurate way to describe almost every component of this game – in summary form, there’s a lot this game does right, and it has some solid ideas with competent construction to back it up. The whole time though, there’s a feeling, there’s a subconscious nagging that something is missing, or wrong, and while it never gets bad enough to outright reject the game it never breaks through that barrier. Instead, we have potentially great ideas that remain sizzling in mediocrity. It’s all the worse knowing that there are other titles that got these things so right – namely Celeste. Ageless is so heavily inspired by, so unabashedly similar to Celeste that it’s difficult to view this through a lens that isn’t Celeste tinted. It’s not a clone – there is enough new and different to set this apart as its own piece of media, but it constantly and aggressively feels like the developers didn’t quite understand what made the source of their inspiration good.
Kiara, the protagonist, is depressed. Like in… no, I have to not do this after every sentence. Kiara is depressed, and that’s fine, and she’s ready to directly tell you and every single person she meets and sometimes literally empty space that she is. Where some games are content to tell you things through clever characterisation, or beautiful metaphor, Ageless prefers the unsubtle route of hamfistedly beating you over the head with direct dialogue statements about every character motivation and plot point – and if they can’t squeeze in a conversation between two characters then by jove will they get characters to announce the thing that just happened out loud. It reduces characters to just a collection of plot devices, since they’re unable to communicate anything other than direct information, which in turn hurts the emotional impact of what is a fairly touching story in summary. Kiara inherits a magic power and decides to use it to help someone save his little sister from a deadly disease, but needs to overcome her own emotional flaws and help her friend with his to do so. Beautiful! The story beats are engaging enough. The over-explanation breaks the connection. It also ruins what could be interesting and compelling twists – an example is that you’re asked to go and pluck a mystical flower from a nearby forest. Signs along the way directly tell you how the flower is the source of life in the forest like a fun nature walk – but your character doesn’t cotton on that maybe picking it is a bad idea until after she nearly murders its guardian and has it spelled out to her in dialogue. The surprise is rendered nonexistent. This continues throughout the game, where literal hours before twists are revealed the information is practically yelled at you. It hurts.
The platforming feels… honestly, pretty competent. Yes, it’s a masocore-esque puzzle platformer, what about it? You’ve got the ability to jump, wall jump, slide. Your power gives you a few abilities: you can shoot arrows to send enemies forward or backward in their lifespan, which while potentially lethal is much more to let you configure said foes into a particular state that solves the puzzle in front of you. This is the primary puzzle mechanic in Ageless – enemies are unique to each area for the most part and so every one of the four lengthy levels will require you to change how you approach the puzzles based on the enemies present. Maybe for this level you need the shielded knight to repel an arrow, creating a platform that lets you cross the lethal gap. Your other tactic is to become Ageless (hey, that’s the title!) which lets you move through a frozen-in-time version of the level, and dash using enemies as a launchpad. This mechanic and its side effects are cleverly inverted and subverted as you progress, like having you use the recoil from your dash to launch enemies rather than yourself. Honestly, it’s all pretty engaging, and I have not much but praise for the level design and puzzle design for Ageless. The movement though, again, is… in practice, awkward. Since becoming Ageless completely freezes the level for a fairly substantial time (or until you dash), it can heavily interrupt your momentum and pacing, and it makes it hard to hit a real rhythm. There’s also strange lags where you’re unable to make any input, like after you fire an arrow, or hit an enemy with an arrow, or deactivate your Ageless state, which hurts your ability to make fluid movements. For me, it also caused deaths from projectiles I reacted to but was made unable to move out of the way of, which was often frustrating. Largely though, the level design is legitimately compelling, and outweighs the off-feeling movement by far. Even the difficulty curve is well constructed, which is handy since unlike Celeste, it has no accessibility options.
Ok. I give up. It’s Celeste comparison time. Remember the strawberries in Celeste? They were scattered through levels in special challenge rooms and required you to grab the strawberry and bring it back to stable ground to collect it. Well, Ageless has relics, which are different because they’re only collectible when you’re in Ageless mode. And they’re shaped like an A instead of a strawberry! Little things like the presentation of dialogue boxes and the way your character slides down walls leave me reminiscing a different time. The story is thematically oddly similar to Celeste, with even some twists almost replicated near the end of the game. The boss levels are similar: Celete’s hotel proprietor is mechanically similar to your first Ageless boss, and thematically like your third. What hurts Ageless’ bosses is rather than being a culmination of skills you picked up over the course of that level, they’re essentially just a new set of random mechanics that weren’t seen before and aren’t seen again. They’re disconnected from the rest of the game. It really feels like a talented level designer made a compelling platformer, but in an attempt to make it feel relevant or… important? I don’t know. They poached a story from Celeste and added that in, in isolation. They poached some boss fights and added them, separate from the rest. It never feels cohesive, and more importantly never quite feels like not Celeste.
Ageless lands in an odd spot. It’s not bad – compelling level design and interesting puzzles keep your attention through its 8-odd hour runtime. Sadly, it just resembles Celeste too much to avoid the dooming question: why don’t you just play that instead? And if you already did – can you forget it enough to enjoy this?
+ Solid level design
+ Interesting puzzles
+ Fun story
- Dialogue & story construction
- Movement feels stiff
- In the shadow of Celeste