Towerfall Hands-On: Frenetic Archery

The indie world is seeing a local multiplayer revolution, and the way is being paved by two games: Towerfall and Samurai Gunn.

Towerfall, formerly an Ouya exclusive game, plays very similarly to its sword-slinging counterpart. Up to four players compete on a single screen, murdering each other with simple abilities and engaging in mindgames. However, where Samurai Gunn aims for the pure simplicity of melee combat, Towerfall goes a little further into party territory — not that that’s a bad thing. If you were to sit four people down with controllers in front of a TV screen, and could only play one game, Towerfall is a strong contender for the game of choice.

Towerfall pits players against each other in a frenetic sidescroller deathmatch. Each player is an archer that can launch various types of arrows at their enemies, with one hit spelling certain death for the poor victim. However, you only have a limited supply of arrows, making each attack important; you can’t just spam arrows and expect to win. While you can pick your arrows up if you miss, so can your enemies. In fact, your opponents can dodge into the arrows themselves to grab them and add to their stockpile without having to wait for them to impact a wall. If you are out of arrows, you either need to find one in a wall somewhere or attempt to restock off of an enemy’s shots. The net result of this is a fast-paced game of feints, dodges, clutch arrow restocking, and narrow victories.

Towerfall spices this simple game of dodging and archery with a bit of item use, though. Scattered around each map are chests that, when picked up, give a player power-ups. These include different arrow types (such as the bomb arrow, which explodes after a short period of time to instakill anyone nearby), a shield (which blocks one hit), wings (allowing flight), and so on. Control of these power-ups is essential for victory, as they can provide a player the edge they need against a player of similar skill. It’s very reminiscent of party fighting games such as Super Smash Brothers, and intentionally so. Towerfall may have a few hardcore sensibilities — one-hit kills leap to mind — but it wants to be an engaging local multiplayer game at its core.

This propensity for party-play and constant mindgames makes Towerfall great as both a competitive and casual multiplayer experience. Two players face off in a duel, and it’s an intense, white-knuckle affair where last-second dodges and item grabbing can turn the course of the fight and cause cheering among the spectators.

Likewise, the four-player free-for-all is hectic and disorganized, with little in common with the slow, methodical pacing of a one-on-one. One player might score a triple kill with a bomb arrow, securing victory in an instant. Another might pick up everybody else’s arrows, leading to a humorous match of back-and-forth dodging and firing as the opposing players try to get their ammo back. Good multiplayer games fit in both competitive and casual play, and Towerfall does so quite easily.

It’s also quite pretty. Towerfall uses a lush art style reminiscent of the glory days of 16-bit and 32-bit art. Sprites are incredibly detailed and colorful, and while the environments are constructed with an air of realism — no magical tomes or mythical monsters — they still have a fairy tale feel about them. Animations are simple but effective, and lots of little touches — such as the quiver of an arrow that just slammed into a wall, or the slight screenshake on a player’s death — help keep the game feeling impactful. Sound is likewise quite excellent, with a fantastic musical score setting the scene for each fight and sound effects that have the sort of weight and strength a fighting game should.

If you’ve got four controllers, a monitor or television, and a computer, Towerfall will give you all the excitement that you would expect from a game fundamentally based around social competition. Pair it with a few beers, some junk food, and your best friends, and you’ve got one great party.

Towerfall is available on Ouya, and is planned for PC release in the near future.


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