There was a glorious, if brief, resurgence of quality hack and slash character action games not too long ago. Games like Bayonetta 2, Devil May Cry 5 and Astral Chain walked into the proverbial bar and ordered a frosty glass of ass-whooping – a quality IPA, let me tell you. Since then though, nothing of note has happened – it’s all gone a bit quiet. Sure Bayonetta 3 is on the way soon, but other than that, the Triple-A space is more than a tad dead.
Hack and Slash Is Back
Trust the Indie Devs to roll up their sleeves and throw their hat into a related, yet totally separate, proverbial ring. Ultra Age is the result of this hard work, and it does a pretty alright job of emulating the big studios whilst carving its own path with a big meaty claymore.
You play as Age, a man with seven days to live. He dons a swanky blue coat – eerily reminiscent of a certain Devil May Cry character – and is on a quest to gain immortality by obtaining some mystical McGuffin that may or may not also herald some sort of techno-apocalypse – kind of Kraftwerk, only more explodey. There is more nuance, depth and thematic relevance than what I’m spouting here, but overall, the story fell flat for me. It acted as a competently done catalyst to hit things and nothing more.
Since hitting things is what this genre is all about, that’s not the greatest of sins. Thankfully Ultra Age has a very satisfying combat system that carries the whole game. Age has a big sword and he swings his mighty blade at whatever mook appears in whatever arena you’ve stumbled into. Age has access to a variety of swords, although he can only equip four at a time. Each sword has its own combos, weight and feel, and every enemy is weak to one of your blades.
Enemies are split into two categories – organic and mecha. Organics are weak to things like Katana’s and Gunblades which apply various effects such as weak and bleed. Mecha enemies are vulnerable to your claymore(s) and lightning blade, dealing huge damage or applying powerful stun ailments. Swapping between weapons meshes seamlessly with your combos allowing you to unleash some incredibly flashy manoeuvres whilst dancing between weapons.
Age’s swords are rather fragile, however, so after enough smacking, they will break. This might seem like an issue, but Age can carry 15 of every weapon and at no point did I ever run out. The reason for this system is to allow age to unleash Break Attacks. Breaking is a monstrously powerful combo ender that changes based on the sword. The Lightning Blade creates a field of perpetual lightning strikes, whilst the Katana shreds an enemy into teeny-tiny pieces.
The final two pieces in the puzzle are Critical Mode and your wire. Critical Mode is your superstate. It increases your damage, defences and critical hit chance making it a powerful tool to unleash against large groups of enemies, tougher opponents or bosses. It recharges very quickly by the end of the game, so it’s nearly always available when things get rough. Your wire allows you to pull enemies to you, or teleport to them if they are too big. With everything combined, Ultra Age is a visually stunning dance mixing and matching combos, stances, enders, aerials and teleportation.
It’s only really held back by the lack of enemy variety. You will spend hours wailing on the same few enemy types. Sure they get reskins now and then, and few gimmicks get thrown to spice things up, but there are only so many robots and big cats you can kill before it starts to get a bit too samey. The game is also a little on the easy side, with the challenge coming mainly from some cheap stun-locking when multiple enemies catch you off guard at once.
Outside of combat, there is exploration. Exploring in Ultra Age is just walking down restrictive corridors – even in visually open areas – and finding some side stuff. This tends to be extra battles or resources. You can then spend those resources to upgrade Age, his arsenal or his robot pal, Helvis. It’s worth doing for the power gains, but it’s far from interesting. This is made worse by repeating areas and certain visual themes dragging on for a bit too long. The game also tries to introduce things like platforming and NieR-style side-scrolling sections, and these just felt awful.
Speaking of awful – the voice acting. I’m torn between thinking Ultra Age is being tongued and cheek with its voice acting in an attempt to emulate classic games of yesteryear, or if it’s just terrible. In either case, most lines are delivered in a way that would make a plank of wood blush. Dialogue in general is also really poor, with some awkward lines that don’t sound like they were written by a native English speaker. Music is great though, as are the sound effects which provide a satisfying level of crunch and smash.
Ultra Age can, at times, pull off some pretty slick visuals. On more than one occasion I was impressed by the spectacle of the combat, the number of particles flying around the screen and the various backdrops that make up the game’s environments. Now and then it can also look pretty damn ugly, and cutscenes are mostly pretty bad. It’s not going to blow your socks off, but it might cause them to fall below your ankles.
Overall, Ultra Age is a good game. Sure its voice acting is ropey and sure, the visuals don’t always hold up, and yeah, the story sucked. This is all made up for by a really fun combat system that carries the game over its 6 hours run time. This isn’t the next big Triple-A blockbuster, but it does what it does well, and it’s worth a dabble.
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