Rei awakens, dazed and confused in the Ultravoid. She is a voidrunner, meaning she explores black holes using advanced technology. Unfortunately, the Ultravoid is an exceptionally massive black hole with Rei’s home planet trapped in its vacuum. Time is of the essence; Rei was sent into the Void as part of a team to activate the Starseed, a device designed to collapse the black hole and save her planet. But her allies are gone, and the Ultravoid has native defenses in the form of inky monsters. With great effort and Hail Mary solutions, Rei’s solo mission is worth reaching for a surprising conclusion in this impressive fast-paced action platformer.
To activate the Starseed, you must defeat six Remnants, giant beasts that rule the Ultravoid’s handful of biomes. Awakening these titans is the first step, destroying giant eyeballs associated with them scattered across the landscape. Fortunately, Rei is an agile explorer. Solar Ash is all about the flow of movement, and traveling around the Ultravoid is a great rush. Rei’s skating feels fast but controlled; I never lost control if it wasn’t my fault, even in the most precarious areas. In fact, she immediately restores speed when slowing down becomes necessary. I jumped gleefully over floating ruins, bubbling lava pools and acid waterfalls with calculated recklessness thanks to the expert placement of platforms and gravel rails. No matter how far I jumped, I always had to make a landing.
Locking grab points and a slow-motion aiming mechanism work well and are perfectly woven into platforming puzzles. I only wish the transition between gravel rails was smoother. Given the speed of Rei’s grind and how far she can launch, it’s easy to shoot down rails given their proximity.
I regularly said, “wow,” whenever I stepped into a new biome. Solar Ash is beautiful. The striking color palette and an almost spherical world design give the experience a dreamy quality. You can skate on and around this cosmic playground from seemingly impossible angles, and looking over inverted landscapes is always a trippy delight. Each area adds fun twists that take advantage of your moves, like carrying fast-fading mushroom tracks to matching colored nodes to sprout vines for grinding.
Everything in the game is meant to keep you moving, and that includes the simple yet satisfying hack-n-slash combat. Most enemies drop after just a few hits, meaning you can easily kill them without stopping. Gracefully exterminating enemies while artfully dodging their attacks still feels cool. My favorite encounters are against the Remnants. These towering monsters come in a variety of shapes and sizes, including a bipedal warrior or a flying bat-like creature. They essentially act like moving platform puzzles and are the final exams of your skills. Racing over their twisting forms to quickly crush knots all over their bodies is a reflex-focused, knuckling affair that had me holding my breath and pumping fists in triumph. Taking too long and evaporating back to the ground is frustrating, but that was mostly due to a faulty pick in my platforming action and was often remedied by a quick course correction.
I also appreciate Solar Ash’s elegant, clean overall design. I wasn’t burdened by complicated mechanics or even new skills for Rei. She maintains the same minor abilities throughout the experience, with collectible suits that provide useful passive improvements, such as health-restoring attacks or increased speed boosts. Along the way, you collect money in the form of plasma that is used solely to improve your health. Strangely though, defeating each Remnant activates a sequence that takes away one notch of health. I’m not sure what the point is of constantly spending thousands of plasma to get the same disappearing hit point back, but I’m not a fan of it.
Solar Ash’s gripping story of despair and hope against all odds serves as another highlight. I felt sorry for Rei, a rookie who is accidentally weighed down by the weight of her entire species. The story develops her almost stubborn optimism and sense of duty in an effective – and surprising – way that I won’t spoil. I came to Solar Ash expecting to feel indifferent to Rei, and I was pleasantly surprised when I felt the opposite.
Sprinting around the world is fun, but I was more than willing to slow down to absorb the intriguing lore along the edges, deepening the history of the Ultravoid. Journal entries present fascinating survival stories of those trapped in the Void. While these beats of the story are positioned as sidequests, it is necessary to expose the tragic arcs of Rei’s allies and the few remaining NPCs, as they contribute to Rei’s character development and the story’s primary themes of loss, regret, and isolation. A standout story centers on a resident of the Void who struggles with his race’s tradition of sacrificing himself to perpetuate the cycle of life and death. The writing even makes you worry about CYD, your AI helper and faithful companion, while the loneliness of the Ultravoid eventually rears its ugly head.
Solar Ash had me racing through its cloud-covered playgrounds into the early hours, looking for the next fun platforming segment. In the remaining hours, I ran to the end of the gripping story. Solar Ash exudes as much substance as it does style, making for some really entertaining space romp.