Savant: Ascent

A tight package like Savant: Ascent is a rare pleasure to witness.

By Daavpuke, Posted 17 Aug 2014

There’s elegance in trying to craft something compact but wholly satisfying, even if it means making a seemingly small game like Savant: Ascent. Just like a good arcade title, it can be completed quickly, it’s highly challenging to do so and there are enough replay possibilities to last ages. Pour that into some Neo Geo grade pixel art and attach an entrancing soundtrack to it and the result is a recipe for sweaty palms.

Savant: Ascent,PC,Review,Android;Arcade,Pixel Art

Savant: Ascent is simple enough. In essence, the game is one giant beat ‘em up elevator stage, but with bullets. After only a split second, a funky wizard is dropped into a marvelous cathedral-like building, where pixel art dominates smooth animations and contrasting lighting. Each curl in the constructions’ frills is finely chiseled, every shadow in the gentleman’s cape flutters. Already the mood is set, but then the dubstep and electronic dance music (EDM) licks start pounding in and the whole screen reverberates, flashes and starts spawning enemies. It is, as they say, “on” from that point on.

Gameplay is divided in two main sectors: projectile attacks and dodges. On one end of the spectrum, the character spits out a rain of bullets in a 360 degree range around its 2D self. Any which way floating heads pop up is the way to fire. This is indicated by arrows on the sides of the screen, particularly troublesome if there are a lot of these things hanging around. If enemies start moving in for a tackle, it’s possible to shift to another side of the screen to avoid taking damage. Easy-peasy; that’s about it.

Savant: Ascent,PC,Review,Android;Arcade,Pixel Art

Things get a lot trickier when variants start popping up, such as encroaching worms that only subside if hit by a special attack. To perform a super blast, a gauge needs to fill up with the blood of the fallen foes around the stage. Since it takes a while to charge up and big critters don’t mess around, accuracy is important. In the meantime, however, there is still a screen swarming with other units flying in, so the game becomes about dodging, in the right direction, as well as controlling the horde.  Given the intense frequency this simultaneously occurs, this quickly demands skill. To even pass the first instance, reflexes need to be sharpened and aim needs to be tightened.

To help out, Savant: Ascent scatters around helpful items and soundtrack pieces. These can heighten senses and if all pieces fit, they’ll contribute to an overall modifier that helps in new sessions. Still, battering an item chest is equally difficult and once more requires taking time away from shooting surroundings. Making matters trickier still, each volley of bullets gets its own captured scene, swishing the camera to that side. That way, the other angles become obscured in favor of more clarity on the chosen direction, but that’s yet another choice to weigh out before engaging. Management is so important in this hectic pace. There’s an exact time to step to the left, pick up a treasure, hack down a wave and slide back to the other side; all in that order and no other. There’s so much stimulation at one time, it becomes much tenser to keep a collected overview than it would appear.

Savant: Ascent,PC,Review,Android;Arcade,Pixel Art

There are only three stages in Savant: Ascent, namely the introduction, followed by separate platforms and a boss fight. If that sounds short, it’s because it is. A game can technically be maneuvered in about ten minutes. Getting to that promised land, however, will not be evident. A few hits and the game is over, meaning the stage needs to be redone in full. Moreover, the challenge won’t wind down for even a second, so don’t expect any leniency here. Do or don’t.

Eventually completing the gauntlet opens up possibilities to climb ever higher in skill levels. In particular, the survival mode that nearly immediately cranks the dial up to full blast can be a daunting task. Even surviving two minutes is a chore in this frenetic trial where enemies seem to trample over the stage harder than they already used to. This is where teeth clench and fists slam tables upon inevitable failure. A retry will need to happen, because that last score wasn’t the best result possible. It needs to be better!

Savant: Ascent,PC,Review,Android;Arcade,Pixel Art

Arcade titles like Savant: Ascent are in rare quantity these days. High quality pixel art mixed with a soundtrack that perfectly resonates the explosion of activity on screen is a true sight to behold. With sharp game design that layers one challenge atop another, even the shortest ride gets to be one without any downtime. Even better, it throws in some high replay value and content unlocking to round out its package. Less is more and that’s a beautiful thing.


Daav Valentaten, NoobFeed (@Daavpuke)

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General Information

Platform(s): PC
Publisher(s): DPad Studios
Developer(s): DPad Studios
Genres: Action, Adventure
Themes: Action, Indie
Release Date: 2013-12-04

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