The Pixel of Dorian Gray
Let’s deal with the pixelated elephant in the room first: Ageless looks a lot like Celeste. However, despite appearances, there is no direct relation — Bala Vicknesh, head of the Malaysian development team One More Dream Studio, stated in an IGN interview that he taught himself pixel art using Pedro Medeiros’ tutorials, which is why you’d be forgiven for thinking this a sequel or spiritual successor to the brutal platformer at first glance.
It’s a shame that Ageless will likely get directly compared with the Canadian platformer, a point I’ll return to later. Graphically it isn’t a drastic concern given that the pixel art here is charming, with well-chosen colour palettes as well as a few interesting characters and enemy designs that help to distance it from its clear inspiration, particularly further into the story.
How Old Did You Say You Were Again?
Ageless’ story falls into some timeworn indie narrative tropes; it’s a tale of a young person, Kiara, fighting their anxiety and depression through newly earned powers or a greater exploration of their world, much like Gris, Night in the Woods and, as mentioned, Madeleine’s mountain climb. These stories have been told with differing degrees of success in the past, and Ageless fits firmly into the middle of that bracket. It isn’t saying anything particularly new, but there’s enough appeal, lore and intrigue built by these environments to elevate the narrative somewhat.
The choice to make every character speak in gibberish, the classic N64 Rare game technique, was perhaps not the best one given how badly Yooka-Laylee’s resurrection of it was received. The dialogue itself is also particularly bland and predictable throughout most of your journey. But the stakes do rise as you play, with some of the later cutscenes amassing a welcome emotional weight.
Traversal is handled through jumping and sliding at first, with your jumps feeling spongy and your fall-pattern being floaty enough to allow for some redirection. The crux of the game design then revolves around the power Kiara has been given; in the world of Ageless everyone has their own unique power inside them which can be brought out on a journey to Pandora, the opening level. Kiara’s allows her to make plants, animals and people age through a well-placed Cupid-like arrow.
Everything in Ageless has five differing states from birth to death, and you’re able to fire either a yellow aging arrow or a blue de-ageing arrow to change the state of all the obstacles in the game at any time. Kiara is then soon able to stop time completely, which can allow her to springboard off of objects in a gratifying leap reminiscent of the Ori games.
These moves transform Ageless into a puzzle-platformer, with each screen providing a problem to solve with your ageing powers. You might need to shoot at an egg to birth a rhinoceros who’ll charge through a rock wall, leaving you milliseconds to time the perfect arrow shot at a plant that needs to grow in order to catch its fall. Saving creatures is somewhat rare though; you’ll often be Yoshi-jumping off them to save yourself, leaving them to careen into oblivion.
Everything is about timing, funnily enough, as you’ll need to age creatures to the appropriate state whilst also avoiding spikes and other traditional platforming obstacles. It leans further into platform-puzzling than puzzle-platforming, where your jumping skills are often tested more than your understanding of screen solutions; the result is an action-focused puzzle experience. Figuring out how to progress is only half the battle — the rest is actually pulling it off.
This is where some issues arise. Ageless does a good job of managing its difficulty — a couple of the screens on the main path will give you trouble, but there are optional relics, like Celeste’s strawberries, which will really test both your dexterity and your understanding of the aged forms in a particular level. But the game’s controls, especially that spongy jumping, aren’t as tight as they could be, which can cause some serious frustration when going for some of the harder relics. Some hazards like spikes also feel unforgivably tough in terms of how close you need to be to die by their pointy end, and it can make continued attempts at tougher screens a chore.
There are however some memorable set pieces in Ageless, typically at the end of an area in the form of chase sequences, again similar to those found in Celeste. The tree-based ending to the second level, in particular, is tough yet fair and sets you up for a futurist, automaton-filled third section where the game really begins to show off its ideas.
This brings me back to the continued Celeste comparison that I and no doubt many others have been guilty of. Yes, there are many similarities, but Ageless does something completely different. Because it hasn’t reached quite the unbelievable level of polish that Celeste did, I’m concerned that these similarities might turn some players off. That would be a shame, given that Ageless presents one of the most interesting puzzle platformer ideas since Fez or Thomas Was Alone.
It’s an exemplary case of a game adopting the Mario design philosophy, with a simple core mechanic that’s built on gradually in both unexpected and rewarding ways. There are aspects like the story and dialogue that could be improved on, and some slight frustrations caused by the controls in more demanding areas. But if you like to challenge both your reaction times as well as your brainpower, Ageless is a puzzle-platformer that’s worth giving a try.
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